Sonnet Exchange in South Korea
Well, I’m back from a whirlwind visit to Seoul, South Korea. Four days is nowhere near enough time to familiarise oneself with such a huge and multifaceted city, so spent much of it in giddy culture shock. I was there as part of the British council’s Sonnet Exchange event, part of their 400 years of Shakespeare celebrations. Basically, my part was to collaborate with a Korean poet, Bo seon Shim, on a graphic adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, whilst a British poet, Ben Wilkinson worked with a Korean artist Sung Goo Won on another. Last Thursday saw us onstage at Kaos Hall in the extraordinary Book Park ( a combination arts gallery, bookshop and performance venue,) reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets and the poets reactions, on English and Korean, whilst my and Sung Goo Won’s art was projected behind us. Compere Sarah Olive, a Shakespeare scholar, then quizzed us about our work together.
It was a strange process, at least as far as I was concerned, made up ofSkype calls and emails and not a little panic. After we settled on Sonnet CXLV I came up with a basic idea of a couple visiting the cinema, falling out and reconciling, whilst their actions are mirrored and contrasted with the onscreen action, the conclusion of James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. I sent roughs of this to Bo Seon, who rightly pointed out that I had left him nowhere to go, and little space to fit his contribution in. And , y’know, why Frankenstein? With the deadline approaching, I started to sweat a little, until we were rescued by politics, Brexit and the Trump election, which had begun to take prominence in our email exchanges. Bo Seon had flagged up a dark interpretation of the Sonnet, centering on broader hate speech and divisiveness rather than simple relationship dynamics. I started to render the couples part of the pages, leaving the cinema screens blank, partly because I needed to work on something. And the day after Trump’s victory a poem was delivered, born of anger, as it were. Bo Seon suggested I fill the cinema screens with scenes of political apocalypse, and a week of late nights later, here we are.
I will post our collaboration soon. Meanwhile here’s the Ben Wilkinson/ Sung Goo Won collaboration:
And here’s Sarah Olive and myslf doing our best to plug the evening on morning radio:
And here’s some of my art in the Chosun Daily newspaper about the project:
Aaand there are some photos here:
Whilst there, I learned a lot about the Korean cartooning scene, visited the spectacular Manhwa Museum in Bucheon, and hopefully made the beginnings of more collaborations to come. Deep thanks to Rebecca Hall, William Kemp, Misun Seo, Juyoung Jeon and all at the British Council for their trust, patience and consideration. And the food. Good god! The food!