When Garry McCarthy and Nigel MacCormack moved to Korea, they had an idea to investigate how people have adapted
to the economic and social changes that have taken place over the past decades.
They would do it through the eyes of “Tiger and Bear,” important creatures in Korea’s mythology.
The results are fresh interpretations of modern-day Korea.” -The Korea Herald
“Earlier I had admitted to them that before I met them I had my suspicions,
based on what I had read about them, that they were just a pair of media whores.
They both eagerly insisted it was true.” -Theoneonefour.com
The Gojoseon legend of Tiger and Bear is a Korean folktale dating back several thousand years, detailing how the Korean nation was created by Gods and animals. Today Tiger and Bear are also the alter ego’s of Garry McCarthy (Tiger) and Nigel MacCormack (Bear), two Irishmen who arrived in Daegu, South Korea in the fall of 2008.
The legend itself tells of the creation of Dangun, forefather of the Korean people, in relation to two creatures, a tiger and a bear, who longed to become human. Hwanung son of the God Hwanin, promised to grant their wish if they were to remain in a cave for 100 days, with only 20 cloves of garlic and a handful of mugwort to stave off their hunger.
The tiger ran away before the 100 days was up, but the bear remained patient and on the 21st day turned into a beautiful woman. Not long after her transformation, she began to crave a child, but no one was willing to wed her. In her sadness she sat beneath a holy tree and prayed for a child everyday. The God Hwanung eloped with her and through him she gave birth to a son, Dangun, who established the ancient Joseon kingdom, founding the nation of Korea.
While both McCarthy and MacCormack are experienced ‘2D’ artists (painting, illustration and so on) they also have a strong interest in performance art and mythology. Arguably their latest concept takes their art to the next level, as they tour around Korea in giant comedy animal heads, inspired by the legend of Tiger and Bear, interacting with the unsuspecting people they meet along the way.
At first glance it may be easy to assume that this is just another pair of foreigners fooling around with silly costumes on. Yet the duo insist that the thought process behind their outfits goes a little deeper by stating,
“Korea has experienced breathtaking economic growth and industrialization, to the extent that it has become the twelfth largest economy in the world. We find ourselves amid a composite of Asian and Western ideals and attitudes, but what effect does it have on the cultural identity of Korea?”
While the subject matter gives a fair amount of depth to the project it gets deeper still once the ‘performance’ gets under way, primarily because Tiger and Bear don’t perform in a conventional sense: They don’t dance, sing songs, or tell jokes. Instead when they give a performance they prefer to walk around amongst everyday people, interacting with whomever they meet, pose for a few photos and give away some commemorative gifts.
Inevitably these performances pose questions, especially for Koreans:
Can foreign influence blend with domestic traditions and what will the results be?
-How can foreigners fit into a culture that already has thousands of years of history and traditions?
– How would the tiger and bear feel about their homeland if they returned to Korea today?
During these performances the audience and the performers come to inhabit the same space, and therefore the ‘show’ is not merely 3D, (a multisided collection objects to be watched from a distance) but rather 4D, something that walks up and talks to you, with all the barriers of conventional performance removed. Imagine walking down the street and seeing an impromptu performance of Hamlet on the sidewalk; yet when you stop to watch, the protagonists instantly rope you into the action, adapting and improvising their lines to bring you in, reaching out and dragging you through the invisible fourth wall that should divide the performers and their audience.
The pair have consequently taken their unique act to festivals all across Korea and made friends with hundreds of strangers in the process, including shows at Nami Island, KEAF and The Seoul Performance Festival with KoPAS, the Dongseogno Festival in Daegu, and the JIMFF 09′ in Jecheon, which included a performance with the Korean rock band Gogo Star. Due to the resulting media exposure the project has since evolved, with the characters of Tiger and Bear now seeking fame and fortune, becoming ‘mock stars’ as it were.
Recently the project has also transitioned into other mediums, the latest experiment being a series of comic strips in association with Spark Media themed around MacCormack and McCarthy’s Tiger and Bear duo, with the results scheduled to be printed in nationwide Korean/English publications. It is a unique collaborative project that pairs complete strangers from all nationalities, with one person writing the story, the other illustrating it, resulting in every comic strip having a different writing and illustration style.
No themes or stylistic guidelines were imposed on the writers or illustrators, except that the work should be in the form of a four panel comic based on the McCarthy and MacCormack’s interpretation of the myth of tiger and Bear. The results have been remarkable, with a wide array of themes, ideas and artistic styles.
With regards to the latest phase of their project McCarthy and MacCormack stated,
“‘Tiger and Bear’ is intended as a cultural meeting place for Koreans and foreigners alike, to reflect on the rich history and heritage of a country that is developing at full-throttle. We see this project as an essay that is still being written; we posed a question and now we want to explore all sides of the argument. Perhaps we’ll never come to a conclusion. ”
In relation to the artists and writers who’ve collaborated on the comic strips the duo stated,
“By inviting members of the public to collaborate with our project we hope to encourage people to soak up their surroundings, think about the past, the present and the future and look upon the land of morning calm like Tiger and Bear would if they emerged from their cave after a long, long sleep.”
The future is bright for Tiger and Bear, who have only just begun to explore their new home of South Korea and the multiple opportunities it presents.