As people return from their summer holidays and prepare for the autumn season, there’s a range of celebratory events that form part of the annaul cycle: from the Korean holiday calendar there’s Chuseok (celebrated over the full moon of the 8th lunar month – 12 -14 September this year) and National Foundation Day, also known as Gaecheonjeol (3 October). The Korean Embassy hosts a reception for friends of Korea to celebrate the latter, and occasionally members of the British Korean Society are fortunate enough to be invited to the Korean Ambassador’s residence to mark the former. In addition, the British Korean Society frequently has a reception in the Houses of Parliament around this time. And this year an extra event was slotted into the calendar: a Korea Day at the University of Kent in Canterbury, timed to take advantage of Jambinai’s UK tour.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UK and the newly formed Republic, which came into being on 15 August 1948, providing an additional excuse to celebrate.
Korean arts and culture were featured at three of the four events. At the Chuseok evening at the Ambassador’s residence, kayageum player Sung Cholong entertained guests with a medley of traditional and contemporary tunes, while at the National Day celebrations (7 October in the Corinthia Hotel) a singer from the Korea Pansori Preservation Association sang a number of folk songs including the Jindo Arirang. She was one of the performers who had entertained the K-music audience at King’s Place the previous evening.
And Korean artist Yiyun Kang had been kept busy with two new commissions celebrating Korea’s traditions and vibrant energy.
At the Korea Day at the University of Kent in Canterbury, Kang projected a new work onto the exterior of the Gulbenkian Theatre as night fell. Inside, theatre-goers were tucking into a special menu in the café that included kimbap, kimchi pancakes and tteokbokki served up under the watchful eye of Chef Yim Hyungsoo, prior to enjoying the energy of Jambinai’s performance, on tour as part of K-music 2019.
Reflecting the contrast of tradition and modern, calm and energy in Jambinai’s music that would shake the theatre later that evening, Kang’s work started with a peaceful, almost abstract scene of invisible dancers pressing their bodies against white fabric – recalling Korea’s traditional moniker as the white-robed race and visually calling to mind Jambinai’s sound loops of piri and haegeum. Successive transformations picked up in pace and energy, with mountain scenes, animated dancheong painting and finally pulsating geometric forms some of which recalled red blood cells, accompanied by energetic percussion.
Similarly, the National Day celebrations opened with another newly-commissioned projection from the same artist. With this projection, Kang coped well with the internal geometry of the room: tall, arched curtained windows with classical decoration set in a long wall punctuated with pillars sometimes dictated the content of the projection, as we seemed to look at a scene through the arches of Gwanghwamun; at other times the projection seemed to make the geometry disappear as we enjoyed successive scenes combining juxtaposing Korea’s traditional architecture and motifs with a dramatic nightscape of Seoul’s skyline.
A “bountiful harvest” in bilateral relations
At the Chuseok event, National Day and the British Korean Society Houses of Parliament reception, three significant recent achievements in bilateral relations were highlighted by various speakers, included HE Ambassador Enna Park – who, in reference to the Chuseok season, called the achievements a “bountiful harvest”, Sir Ed Davey MP, Heather Wheeler MP and BKS Chairman Martin Uden:
- The signing of the UK-ROK Free Trade Agreement – the first such FTA to be signed in Asia – that would provide continuity in UK-ROK trade post Brexit. Catherine Wheeler MP, who spoke at the BKS reception hosted by Sir Ed Davey, noted how the signing would be welcomed by one particular business in her Derbyshire constituency: Denby Pottery, whose products are very popular in Korea.
- The inclusion of Korea in the limited list of countries who could use the e-gates at Heathrow, thus cutting down the wait to get through passport control
- The reversal of the decision taken during Theresa May’s stay at the Home Office, so that now students would be allowed to stay in the UK for two years after they finish their course.
At the National Day celebration the ambassador also awarded the Korean Order of Merit to a British veteran of the Korean War.
Thanks to the organisers of these events, and to the speakers – particularly the politicians who made time in their diaries during a particularly fraught time in the parliamentary calendar.
Hoping our members had a wonderful Chuseok this weekend. Around 70 BKS members were treated by Her Excellency @ennaparkMOFA to a celebration at her @KoreanEmbassyUK residence. Complete with a brief recital on the Kayagum. Definitely a highlight of the BKS members’ calendar. pic.twitter.com/IydWXUDNAR
— BritishKoreanSociety (@BritKoreanSoc) September 16, 2019
BKS Chuseok celebrations at the Ambassador’s residence: 9 September 2019 | Korea Day in Canterbury: 4 October 2019 | National Foundation Day reception at the Corinthia: 7 October 2019 | BKS Parliamentary reception: 24 October 2019.
- Report on the Chuseok evening on BKS website
- Heathrow website: Expanded use of eGates – seven countries added | Hammond sets June date for new border e-gate checks, BBC, 13 March 2019