(Un)Building Colonial Space in Korea, 1910-1945


Friday, September 27, 2013, 1:30pm to 6:30pm


Room 112 (Stubbins), Harvard Graduate School of Design, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Event Description

This interdisciplinary colloquium engages the following questions: How is Korean colonial space constructed in, and through, literature, archaeology, visual culture, and architecture? How do we know of the colonial built environment as epistemology and as site, either material or imagined? We are talking within and beyond the spatial practices of colonialism, as they appear and are understood as urban form and architecture. The presenters and discussants will examine the consumption, experience, and circulation of Korea’s colonial subjectivity through spatial constructs and imaginaries. 

Supported by the Young-Chul Min Memorial Fund at the Korea Institute, Harvard University. Special thanks to AsiaGSD, Harvard Korea Society, KoreaGSD, and MDesS program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. 

Presenter Biographies

Hyung Il Pai (Ph.D. Harvard University 1989) is professor at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Constructing Korean Origins: A Critical Review of Archaeology, Historiography and Racial Myth in Korean State Formation Theories  (Harvard University Asia Center 2000) and co-editor of Nationalism and the Construction of Korean Identity (University of California East Asia Monograph Series 1998). She has published on a wide range of topics related to the politics and history of East Asian archaeology, heritage management, tourism, photography and anthropology in international journals. She has conducted archival and field research in the Republic of Korea and Japan sponsored by the SSRC, Japan Foundation, Korea Foundation, Fulbright Fellowship, and the International Center for Japanese Studies. She has been invited as a visiting scholar and research professor at the leading national/cultural research centers and universities in Korea and Japan, including Seoul National University Kyujangak Institute, International Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto University Department of Archaeology, Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties, and University of Tokyo Oriental Institute. Her book entitled, “Heritage Management in Korea and Japan: The Politics of Antiquity and Identity” is in the current fall catalogue (Dec 2013) published by the University of Washington Press Korea Series of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. Her future projects include visual culture, tourism studies, the heritage industry and the Korean Wave in the Republic of Korea and Japan from a comparative perspective. 

Ellie Choi (Ph.D. Harvard University) is a literary and intellectual historian of modern Korea. Her book manuscript, Space and National Identity: Yi Kwangsu's Vision of Korea during the Japanese Empire, explores the relationships among space, cultural nationalism and historical identity. Professor Choi's current research interests include the Seoul city, the Diamond Mountains, visual culture, colonial tourism, and collaboration. She is a founding member of the Seoul Studies Colloquium. 

Se-Mi Oh is an Assistant Professor of Korean Literature and Visual Culture in the department of East Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University and is currently working on a project that looks into the visual and sound cultures of Colonial Seoul, entitled Seoul Streets: Surface Matters, Speech Matters. 

Jini Kim Watson is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at New York University. Jini received her B.A. (Honors) from the University of Queensland, a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Melbourne, and her Ph.D. in Literature from Duke University in 2006. Her research focuses on the literature and culture of the Asia-Pacific, comparative modernities, theories of architecture and urbanism, and questions of political modernity. She is the author of The New Asian City: Three-dimensional Fictions of Space and Urban Form (Minnesota, 2011) and has published on postcolonial space and literature in Postcolonial Studies, Contemporary Literature and Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique.


"Visualizing the “Korean Landscape”: Native Types and Famous Places in the Tourist Imaginary"

Hyung Il Pai, UC Santa Barbara

Visages of decaying ruins have captured the imagination of explorers, artists, scholars, photographers, and tourists for more than two centuries. This study introduces the earliest photographic images of Korea's monuments captured by diplomats, globe-trotters, and commercial photographers which were widely circulated in travelogues, colonial government reports, photo albums, postcards, and travel guides for more than a century. Regardless of the print medium, their aesthetic and cultural biases resulted in the promotion of the most “picturesque” monuments such as royal tombs, Buddhist art, palaces, fortresses, and temples targeting the “tourist gaze.” By analyzing a select number of the most widely circulated stock images of architectural landscapes which have served as the “scenic” backdrop for framing deposed Yi royal family members, visiting dignitaries, peasants, courtesans, children, and tourists, the paper will reveal how such highly exoticized, romanticized, and “time-less” visions of the conquered “Other” have continued to impact the tourist itinerary of famous places today. The goal of this paper is to demonstrate how images of royals, beauties, and celebrities posed amongst ruins of vanquished long lost civilizations have served not only as tools of political legitimization, propaganda, assimilation, and civilizing mission but also marketing strategies to advertise the latest must-see imperial destinations to a world audience.


"Travel Abroad, Cosmopolitanism, and Kohyang (hometown) in Colonial Korea: Yi Kwangsu and His Alterities"

Ellie Choi, Cornell University 

Travel opens up space to things forgotten and unseen. Indeed, travel takes us not only to Other spaces (Foucault), but also brings forth stories (de Certeau), whether they be fast disappearing histories, or disenfranchised voices. Travel thus was especially important for the colonized during a particular moment in the history of the non-West. For colonial Korea (1910-45), the imposition of this thing called modernity or Westernization was experienced as a complete transformation of both lived experiences and landscape cast unto the uneven expanses of empire. 

Similarly, literature is often the best excavation site for everyday practices of the colonized who lived hidden from official view, and, for colonial nationalists who did not wish to be visible in the official maps and government plans. My presentation considers Yi Kwangsu’s (1892-1950) writings as invaluable sources which reintroduced to the largely illiterate colonial readership the old Korean capital of Hanyang as modern Kyŏngsŏng (Keijō in Japanese, or Seoul). The Seoul depicted in Yi’s early works represented the dream of the modern Korean minjok, the location of a new “national” identity in all its subsuming power. And the centrifugal pull of modern national capital-building required the forgetting of other memories and localities. Yi Kwangsu’s travel throughout the empire in this context were co-figurative processes translating a colonial modern minjok, and were complicated by the very condition of alterity for an individual whose location of culture was not home (kohyang, furusato). These dichotomies (Korea and Japan) were further complicated by the fact that even though he represented the Seoul intellectual elite, Yi Kwangsu’s hometown was in northern Korea. Organized around a consideration of colonial Korean space, this presentation explores the alienation from home modernization signified, and more importantly the complicated ways that “homecoming” was experienced for the socially disenfranchised imperial subject within the larger empire.


"History, Utopia, Empire: Writing Architecture in Colonial Seoul"

Se-Mi Oh, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Can we find the writing of history in space? This presentation explores this question by looking at the colonial space of Seoul as a textual space. As the former capital of the Chosôn dynasty transformed into a modern city, Seoul became a showcase city for Japanese colonialism. Architecture here played a key role in endowing the city with its spectacular vision and fictionalizing the environment in the making and masking of reality. Two guiding principles of architecture and urban planning in Colonial Seoul were 1) erasure and 2) ornamentality. The first principle relied on the tectonic power of architecture that superimposed itself onto the existing matrix of the city. This violent process primarily aimed at re-surfacing the city, and combined with the re-mapping through the bifurcation of space, Colonial Seoul became a colonial discourse whose highest ideal was teleological history. This articulation of modernity and colonialism was accompanied by highly decorative qualities of architecture, which assembled different traditions and styles of the West. This was a utopian vision that was indifferent to topography and unnatural to its environment creating an imposter, simulation, and kitsch. Therefore, this presentation locates the key tenets of coloniality in the vision of empire written through teleological history, utopia that existed in a cultural void, and modernity that was in essence phantasmagoric. 


"Spaces of Division, Development, Dictatorship: Ideologies of Urban Form in Postcolonial South Korea"

Jini Kim Watson, NYU

In what ways has colonial space been “unbuilt” in postcolonial South Korea? How are new built forms of the post-division, post-war period imagined, conceived and experienced? Is there an architecture of rapid economic development? This paper investigates the legacy of Japanese colonialism and Cold War decolonization in terms of the spatial systems—and spatial ideologies—of the Park Chung Hee era (1961-79). Using the notion of colonial space-making and its aftereffects, and drawing from urban and imperial histories, political speeches and literary texts, Watson propose ways we might read the complexity of Korean postcolonialism in the form of a high-rise building or factory. The talk will also consider ways the concept of the postcolonial can be useful in understanding the newly built spaces of rapid urbanization and industrialization.


This event is supported by the Min Young-Chul Memorial Fund at the Korea Institute.