[KS] Collaboration / BAUHAUS (2)

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at fas.harvard.edu
Sun Feb 7 14:32:54 EST 1999

Here comes part TWO.

The following is just one possible approach, it is part of my personal take
on the collaboration issue, which I found works well for me when writing
about colonial period art. I am not suggesting that this is ³the² solution,
³the² method, and I welcome all suggestions and criticism, but not insults.

To me it seems that one of the major methodological tricks in getting to
find out more about and helping us understanding collaboration is to drop
"collaboration" as a separate topic. If we don't, we might start out as a
fact-finding mission (which is fine, no problem with this) but will also
end up as a fact-finding mission. I think that part of Carter Eckert's
_Offspring of Empire_, Jay Lewis mentioned it before, is one of the fine
examples of how such an approach can work. The important difference between
the two approaches (collaboration as a separeate topic vs. collaboration
imbedded as part of reseach done on other issues like colonial economics
etc.) is, I believe, that one comes up with other *questions*, and through
other questions to a better understanding.

Secondly, the comparative approach: This is a very problematic one, IMHO.
Seems that Germany is somehow the mastermind behind the comparative
approach; of about 640 Korea related doctoral dissertations in German
language that we list in our bibliographic database roughly one third are
comparative studies -- comparing XY in Korea to XY in Germany. Having read
quite a number of these works back in the 1980s I was usually left with the
feeling to have learned something about Korea and something about Germany,
but was in most cases (with exceptions) confused to find two unrelated
works between the same book cover. My own alternative is this: a
comparative approach while doing research without necessarily including a
comparative analysis in the work itself. Let me explain: A comparative
analysis will predetermine the structure of your work (listing differences
& similarities, then explaining these -- e.g., on the background of
cultural histories of the countries compared). With such a predetermined
structure, however, we have walked into our own trap, an academic crossword
puzzle -- we are just supposed to fill in the blanks,  and the answers are
already there on the reverse page anyway. The answers are there because the
questions are there (predetermined by the comparative structure itself). On
the other hand, if we widely read, say about modernity in Germany and/or
India, and about British colonialism and the collaboration issue in other
countries, we will come to a basic understanding of historical phenomens
like modernity, colonialism, collaboration ... in these countries, and can
then start to wonder how and why this was so different (or so similar) to
the Korean case. By not being forced into the structure of a comparative
analysis we can now develop questions that will make new connections,
thereby giving us new insights. It's often more the questions that give us
better insights, not necessarily the answers. Often the questions are the
answers -- the problematising of a relationship between A and B that wasn't
viewed as a relationship before.

Let me give you two examples:

(1) Colonial period painting
When reading through South Korean works about colonial period art you will
find either artists¹ bios or descriptions about grouping. That¹s fine, no
problem with this, and as long as we go on reading only about Korean modern
art we won¹t even notice what we are missing. If we read on we will read
about all the styles introduced to Korea, and which artists practiced which
styles and won which awards and were active in which political groups and
participated in which group exhibitions .... and maybe that painter X and
woodcutter Y were producing war propaganda art in the late colonial period,
etc. etc.  I don¹t deny that all this lexicographical research is
necessary, I do it myself. But, Professor Chu, please show me a work that
discusses the question of why, for example, Surrealism was such a strong
movement in Japan, the colonial master, and not in Korea (we only know of a
very few examples of Surrealist painting). Or a work that discusses the
relationship between any given Korean painter and his Japanese professor at
a Japanese art school, and what the stylistic implications are. I may well
have missed an article here and there, but I have never seen anyone writing
more than a sentence (if anything at all) about topics I feel are central
in coming to an understanding of colonial Korean art that goes beyond
encyclopedic entries, biographies and anecdotic story-telling. The few
³traditional² art historical texts on styles during the colonial period do
neglect that Impressionism in the 1930s in Korea has quite a different
meaning than Impressionism 50 years earlier in France and 30 years earlier
in Japan. Nobody would write about the Italian Renaissance the same way
than about its Greek models. Impressionism in Korea is not Impressionism.
And after all we are dealing with a modernization that came via the Japanse
colonial master. All these questions need to be addressed, they are most
essential questions .... See, I am frustrated too.

Now, if we start reading about modernity and collaboration in other
countries (which doesn¹t has to be the collaboration between two different
peoples) without aiming at a direct comparison, we might benefit.

(2) My last posting about the *Bauhaus and Nazism* is one such example: It
demonstrates that modernism -- and the Bauhaus is widely viewed as the
figurehead of modernism -- is not necessarily a democratic concept, that
there isn¹t necessarily a one-to-one equation between artistic styles and
political schools .... the term ³fascist architecture² (monumentalism,
blahblahblah...), for example, is a historical description, but is more
than questionable as a style description. Friends asked me what I think
about the connection between *North* Korean architecture and fascist
architecture in Nazi Germany ... and I felt lost, because I could not
compare two illusionary projections with each other, this would make sense
for the art column of the Han¹guk ilbo, not for an art historial analysis.
Are you getting a sense of were I am heading to? If Mies van der Rohe was
willing to fulfill Hitler¹s dream of a remodelled Berlin (the job Albert
Speer should finally get), and if Harvard Professor Walter Gropius paid his
taxes to the Nazi government until the war broke out, hoping to be allowed
to return, then post-war Germany lost a cornerstone of its cultural
legitimacy. Given the outstanding role that the Bauhaus played for the
modernity project we cannot just put a rose in their mouth and put the
whole Bauhaus into the trash box of history. The classification approach
(as I would call it) of collaboration doesn¹t work. We need to rethink the
concept of modernity, and that means to rethink it¹s relationship with
politics, economics and society in general. Going from here, I can now try
to work my way through colonial Korean art and modernism, and can see
³collaboration² not only as an integral part of the colonial system, but
also, and more importantly so, as a phenomen that seems unrelated to
modernity or colonialism as such.

Okay, this isn¹t the pie in the sky, but it¹s one possible approach that I
am trying to play with.

Enjoy the weekend!


Frank Hoffmann * 1961 Columbia Pike #42 * Arlington, VA 22204 * USA
E-MAIL:  hoffmann at fas.harvard.edu
W W W :  http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hoffmann/


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