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Eloquence Magazine photo shoot – photograph by Dohee Kim

Tiger and Bear have featured in several different media publications in South Korea. Below are a selection of articles.

`Tiger and Bear` explore modern-day Korea

Originally published in the Korea Herald 2010-03-30  (link to article here)


Daegu subway fire simulation at The Daegu Safety Theme Park - photograph by Dann Gaymer

DAEGU – On an afternoon in Daegu, families were joined by two rather bizarre observers; two Englishmen in suits with huge comedy animal heads, one fashioned as a tiger and the other a bear.

They silently followed around a tour group at the Daegu Safety Theme Park and observe the images of modern Korea and all its dangers, trying to make sense of the place they have found themselves in.

Along the tour, Tiger and Bear clumsily struggled to find their way out of a burning subway train, climb a mountain, take cover during an earthquake and stop their house from burning down – all greatly hindered by the oversized heads they were wearing.

Small children gazed with absolute awe, mothers giggled to fathers and the park assistants simply laughed until it hurts.

The other guests at the park probably had more than a few questions to ask about what they were doing, and that is exactly what Tiger and Bear want.

At first glance there may be the assumption that this is just a case of two foreigners larking around in costumes.

But this performance and others like it actually go a lot deeper.

The two Englishmen have taken on the roles of Tiger and Bear, important characters in Korea`s mythology, as part of a performance art project to investigate how Korea maintains its traditions while undergoing heavy development. Yet the duo is likewise performing a juggling act between keeping with their original intent of interacting with everyday people and dealing with their growing fame.

The Daegu Safety Theme Park sits beneath the Palgon Mountain, home of the famous Gat Bawi Buddhist statue. It was built to “enhance citizen awareness of safety and people`s capacity to cope with disasters,” in the wake of the Daegu`s subway fire of Feb. 18, 2003, as a way to make the city`s citizens aware of the dangers that face everyday people in Korea`s rapidly modernizing urban centers.

An average day at the park consists of a guided tour through different disaster zones, detailing past and potential future disasters, such as subway fires, landslides and earthquakes, complete with video segments, advice on how to deal with these situations and simulations of each disaster.

Typically, the attendees of the theme park are groups of school children or families with small children, who either want to instill a sense of danger awareness in their offspring, or just make a day of it at Mount Palgong before taking the cable car up to the top of the mountain.

The two men behind Tiger and Bear are James Topple (a former market trader in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein) and Colin Riddle (a professional magician who traveled around the United Kingdom with a family-operated circus). After arriving in Korea, the pair decided they wanted to investigate how Korea was adapting to the numerous economic and social changes that have taken place over the past 20 years. Since both have an interest in mythology, they decided to choose the Gojoseon legend of Tiger and Bear as the basis for an art project to see how old traditions fit in the Korea of the 21st century.

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. Hwanung eloped with her, and through him she gave birth to a son, Dangun, who established the ancient Gojoseon kingdom.

In some ways the project, which Riddle maintains is a breed of performance art or live theater, is a way to deal with feelings of dislocation and culture shock that almost all new arrivals in Korea have to face. Part of the reason they choose tiger and bear as the subject matter is that, indeed, if these two characters were to visit Korea today they would almost certainly not recognize it, what with both mass industrialization and modernization, with everything from language to religion having changed.

Tiger and Bear therefore don`t want to hide from Korean people, but rather meet them and see what they make of their costumes: Do they recognize the characters they have chosen? How do they feel about their depiction? What do think about foreigners in Korea? What do these interactions tell us about how modern-day Korea feels about its past?

Obviously this relies on heavy interaction and a key part of the project relates to the heads they wear, being purposely open-faced so as to not hide the people within them or look scary, instead possessing an almost cartoonish quality. Maybe this is why people have indeed been so keen to meet Tiger and Bear and get close to them

An unintended side-effect is that the duo is now making more of a mark on the cultural landscape of Korea, especially in terms of popular media.

During a break at the theme park Topple explained some of their exploits. “We`ve done exhibitions at the Seoul Museum of Art, Daegu`s Dongseongo festival, and headlined the Jecheon International Music and Film Festival with Go Go Star. We`ve been pretty busy and September is going to even more hectic for us, with an exclusive interview in the September edition of Daegu Pockets and a full-page write-up in Eloquence magazine.”

“In the near future, Korea will be seeing a lot more of us. I can`t say too much, but live performances, TV spots and even movie cameos could all be on the cards,” Riddle added.

Yet despite the fact that fame and fortune appear set to whisk Tiger and Bear off to greater things (or maybe just 15 minutes of fame on EBS) they are nevertheless content to continue getting out there and meeting regular Koreans – for the time being at least.

“Living it up at the after-show parties at the hotels and clubs is great and we`re really excited about the future, but at the end of the day it`s about the normal people. We came here to meet Korean people and we`ll never become too big to do that,” said Topple.

Riddle concurred.

“You`ve got to make time for those around you and I`m sure for whatever reason the people we met today at the safety theme park will remember this day for quite a while.”

The families on the tour with Tiger and Bear that day will almost certainly remember the encounter, although probably not so much because of Tiger and Bear as people but because of their bizarre appearance.

Nevertheless another thing that could linger may be the question as to why two Westerners were acting out the contents of a Korean legend and what place such traditions and myths have in today`s Korea.

Dann Gaymer is an Expat Living contributor based in Daegu. He also writes for Daegu Pockets. More of his writings can be seen at http://danngaymer.blogspot.com – Ed.

By Dann Gaymer

Face to Face with the Face of Zoophillia: The One One Four Talks with Tiger and Bear

Originally published on the oneonefour.com 2009-12-09 (link here)

Image courtesy of www.theoneonefour.com

Performance artists Colin Riddle and James Topple, also known as “Tiger and Bear”
have been in the media a lot these days. “It’s kind of like S and M,” Colin agrees.
“We want to lose control. We don’t care what you write about us.” Colin has just moments ago broken six days of living as a mute to talk with The One One Four about what it is he and James do. “The media is a big part of it,” they say, “but mostly, its for our own enjoyment, there is no goal really, it is what it is.” We talked a lot in the beginning about the nature of their project and what it is they hope to achieve, Colin jotting notes on a pad and passing them to James to read. James, a print-maker, poet and performer, who is not comfortable with his work being contextualized, talked about the myth of the tiger and bear as the creation of Korean identity and how they are using the myth to engage with people and understand Korea’s modernization. “It’s really all about hanging around with Go Go Star and eating samgyeopsal in the mountains.”  It’s clear that there is not much to be learned about what they do by talking about it. It is a performance and the doing and experiencing of it is where their art exists. “So let’s go.” I suggest, “Let’s go see this thing in action.” “No,” says James,”This is already it, us talking about Go Go Star with you over samgyeopsal and him (Colin) not talking. That’s what it is.”

Colin and James have only been in Korea eight months. They met in university back in England were they were both studying art. James continues to work as a print-maker on pieces that he describes as “offensive.” Colin describes his work here in hurried scribbles on a notepad, “I’m a mime. For kindergarten kids, they love it.” The white face paint he is wearing as an homage to a member of Go Go Star who goes by the name “The Face” is badly cracking. “We really don’t like hanging around with people, we mostly keep to ourselves or hang out with Go Go Star.” says James while Colin has excused himself to go to the toilet. When he returns his face paint is gone, and for the first time in six days he speaks, “Is the interview over?” he asked. “Is that the first thing you’ve said in six days?” I ask.”Yeah, I might have said “shit” or something once or twice when he was trying to grab my bum.” James grins slyly and jabs a hand at Colin’s waist. “So what are you going to write about us?” James asks, “are going to slag us off?” 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.

“So what’s next for Tiger and Bear?” I ask. “We want to go to North Korea and perform for Kim Jung-il.” says James. “Won’t it be hard to get in to the country?” I ask. “No, Kim Jung-il will invite us. We are one hundred percent sure of that. He will invite us.” Besides continuing their work with Go Go Star, Tiger and Bear want to get into television and film. They are currently planning an “endorsement” for Daegu Pockets TV. “We want to get tramps, I guess you call them bums, and have them be in it, you know like just film them as part of the endorsement, like holding up copies of the magazine and that.”

Later in the night I went out with Tiger and Bear into the streets of downtown Daegu to see the kinds of reactions they got. For the most part they only got stares and a few shouts of “Hello” and “I love you.” Having photos taken with people is a big part of their shtick even when it is unsolicited. Tiger and Bear would rush up to people at the slightest provocation and impose themselves on unsuspecting people, grabbing them and mugging for the camera amidst nervous laughs and shielded faces. There wasn’t much talk about myth or the modernization of Korea. Earlier I had asked them if all of this wasn’t some kind of reaction to the unwanted attention Koreans often give to foreigners. They both insisted that that had nothing to do with it.

Toward the end of the night after copious amounts of drink had been consumed James talked about his engagement to a local girl and his plans to stay on in Korea. Colin was not so certain about his future here and said he missed his country quite a bit. As we parted Colin asked again what I was planning on writing about them and I told him I wasn’t sure. “Please, man, I beg of you, slag us off, no one has slagged us off in the media yet.” “I’ll do my best,” I promised, and said goodnight to Tiger and Bear wondering if I would keep a promise I had made earlier to title the piece “Colin is a Cunt”.

Interpretations of Korea

Originally published in the Korea Herald 2010-03-30 (link to article here)

Two Englishmen who dress up as a tiger and a bear to explore Korean society now have some company, in the form of the Tiger and Bear comic strip.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

'Tiger and Bear at the Mall’
written by Johnny Hargreaves,illustrated by Jungle Bean,
first published on 4/12/2009 on theoneonefour.com

When James Topple and Colin Riddle 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 legend of tiger and bear tells of the creation of Dangun, forefather of the Korean people, in relation to a tiger and a bear that longed to become human. To make a long story short, the tiger ran away while the bear stayed and became a beautiful woman. The God Hwanung eloped with her and she gave birth to a son, Dangun, who established the Gojoseon Kingdom, founding the nation of Korea.

The two Englishmen are hard to miss. Whether on the subway or at an amusement park, Topple and Riddle can be seen wearing giant cartoonish tiger and bear heads.

“We`ve always thought about the Tiger and Bear project as … a piece of critical writing. We have an introduction – Tiger and Bear from the Joseon legend have returned to Korea – then we pose a question – how do they adapt to the dramatic changes that Korea has undertaken. The work itself is like the main body; it`s up to the viewer to form their own conclusion,” said Topple.

Adding to the in-person Tiger and Bear performances, the comic strip is the newest addition to the Tiger and Bear project.

“As far as reflecting society,” Riddle said, “we are giving a voice to people by inviting anyone to collaborate and write the comics, so you could say that a part of society is reflected in the words and the images.”

The Tiger and Bear projects, both in-person and the comic, follow Korea through its modernization, with the ultimate goal of bringing out different interpretations of the country. “We like to think of Tiger and Bear as a cultural meeting place where we can reflect on the old and the new Korea. We want to bring out different views and interpretations of Korea. We hope that people will stop to think more about their place in society and take the time to find out more about their new home,” said Topple.

The idea for a tiger and bear comic strip came from the brain of Craig White, the managing editor of Daegu Pockets. He wanted an ongoing strip based on Topple and Riddle`s alter egos, tiger and bear. After sending out a call for illustrators, more than 20 expressed interest. So instead of turning so many away, it was decided to open it up to all interested illustrators to broaden the interpretations.

“The Tiger and Bear project has always been about the reaction of the public and bringing our work into the public domain in innovative ways, so we decided that we would also put the comic project out there for other people to write too,” Riddle said.

He added that the idea of a straight forward comic from their own perspectives didn`t seem as appealing as trying to push the idea of a comic into a much more conceptual vehicle. The artists even include those that have never set foot in Korea. “It has also been interesting to receive ideas and illustrations from people who have never actually been to Korea and how they perceive it from what knowledge they have.”

The illustrators come from a vast spectrum of backgrounds. From a 6-year-old English girl to a university professor, all have differing experiences. The result is a great degree of variation as to what each reader finds in each strip.

One artist, Clayton Foster from New Zealand, said Tiger and Bear reflects the idea that as “expats” we can dress up in the local culture, but we`ll still be outsiders to an extent. “Tiger and Bear exploits the inherent awkwardness of being a stranger in a strange land, and at the same time offering some unique insights.” Foster lives in Suji and works as a freelance writer and illustrator.

Some artists take a more metaphorical approach. David Caleb Recine, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, explain how that in the original Tiger and Bear myth, they had to stay in a cave for 100 days to become human. Tiger grew impatient and left. The bear stayed, became human, and founded Korean society.

“Today, the goal isn`t to become human – it`s to become global. The `Tigers` among us lose their patience. Foreign Tigers make no effort to learn Korean or participate in Korean culture. Korean Tigers have no interest in world travel and want no exposure to foreigners, their language or their ideas. The Bears among us stay in the `cave` of globalization, working to become new people. Korean Bears are foreigners and Koreans who make an effort to reach out to each other, sharing their language, culture, and ideas toward a common goal – building a new and mighty Korea.”

One goal of the project is to reach out to expats in Korea as well. Riddle asks: “The myth is believed to tell of the joining of two tribes, one worshipped the tiger, the other worshipping the bear. As with all myths we consider the examples set forth in it: as a foreigner in Korea should we be more like the tiger or more akin to the bear?”

(mattlamers@heraldm.com)

By Matthew Lamers

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