Northeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - The Bangudae Petroglyph as Genealogy and Materiality: The Modern Encounter with Nature in Ulsan, South Korea

Saturday, July 7
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Tamarind, New Building

This paper examines the genealogy of “prehistoric Asia” utilized through the emblem of the Bangudae Petroglyph [bangudae amgakwa] in the city of Ulsan, South Korea. The Bangudae Petroglyph is a 6,000-year old rock carving of monumental dimensions, which is believed to depict whales and Paleolithic humans engaged in whaling. The “theming” of public space through display of the Bangudae Petroglyph developed with the creation of the Special Zone for Whale Culture, a tourist zone modeled on the “whale culture” villages of Japan. In this context, the Bangudae Petroglyph is utilized in place-making performances and a social practice of self-indigenization. The petroglyph is both a material object and a signifier. As a material object created 6,000 years ago, the petroglyph gives material reality and temporal depth to whaling as an enduring “way of life.” As a signifier, it multiplies as simulacra in city landscapes, ubiquitously appearing on apartment buildings, bus stops and public offices. Although it is obvious that the Bangudae Petroglyph has come to represent an invented tradition, it is necessary to ask: why do Ulsan citizens need this particular tradition? I attempt to answer this question by identifying the role of modernity in the use of the petroglyphs. Although Korean modernity has developed struggle between capitalism and communism and the drive for industrialization, currently it must be reinvented through the use of high-technology consumer goods. Using the data from my participant-observation at the Ulsan Whale Festival, I argue that a form of modernity is ritualized in a public spectacle.

Bradley Tatar

University of Colorado Boulder, United States

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