Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War, a new exhibition opens next week at Asia House:

A Soldier’s Tale Exhibition – 130 Years of Friendship, 60 Years of Memories

Yongho Kim: Pian 2011-001 (2011)

Yongho Kim: Pian 2011-001 (2011). 164 x 96 cm. Image courtesy ISKA ART

Presented by ISKAI Contemporary Art, at Asia House
8 – 20 July 2013
10.00-18.00 Mon – Sat
A Soldier’s Tale is an exhibition inspired by the stories of British soldiers; real and tragic yet dramatically inspiring. It is not a manifesto of political views or ideological endorsements but rather, a journey of courage, brotherhood, despair and human endurance. It will run at Asia House, London from 8-20 July 2013.The Korean War, often called ‘The Forgotten War’, represented one of the bloodiest episodes in 20th century military history. Troops from over 20 nations fought bitterly for three years, which, after four million civilian and military casualties, ultimately ended in a stalemate. The War marked an important cornerstone in world history: the first cold war conflict and one that is still, technically, continuing. Yet its veterans – Korean, British or other – have quietly faded into oblivion.

While this year has seen a new, and a hitherto relatively unknown, young leader of North Korea break a 60-year old truce to trigger “the most serious crisis” since the Korean War, this exhibition takes place in the month commemorating the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire and also coincides with the 130th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the UK and Korea.

Soon-hak Kwon: A work for A Soldier'sTale (detail) (2013)

Soon-hak Kwon: A work for A Soldier’s Tale (detail) (2013). Variable dimensions. © Soonhak KWON

A Soldier’s Tale consists of 19 works by 14 artists. It also includes with 30 photographs of the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone), both past and present, by seven photographers. The artworks respond in diverse ways and encourage visitors to reflect upon the untold pain, optimism and perseverance of the Korean people as well as the soldiers involved in its war.

The exhibition aims to bring out new perspectives by bringing together the unnatural; foreign subjects processed through local eyes and minds, the old (war veterans) and the young (post-war generation artists), and maybe the ‘forgotten’ versus the ‘forgetting.’

A Soldier’s Tale is constructed in three parts. Visitors first enter the exhibition via the ‘Soldier’s Universe’, a remodelled room of British-Korean War Veteran David Kamsler OBE by Soonhak Kwon. War memorabilia fill a deeply personalised wall, each accentuating his fragility and fading past. Anna Paik also paints a portrait of Kamsler, a special reflection of someone who has no family left.

Accounts of the Gloucestershire Regiment’s legendary battle inspired three artists in the room entitled ‘Imjin River’. Leenam Lee’s Park Yeon Waterfall represents a constant yet forceful division of a country that lingers on. Meanwhile, Suknam Yoon’s carved and painted 500 totem-like wooden figurines, 500-Returned draw on a millennium-old Korean tradition guarded by Shamanism. This ritual aspect of Yoon’s work is spiritually intimate to but stylistically contrasting to Jiho Won’s From One Point of View, an incised black carpet, which, when placed on a stony surface, transforms into the monumental lines of 750 coffins. Jeong Hwa Choi’s striking installation of 750 bright red plastic flowers, Winter Garden, creates a sea of blood-tinged chrysanthemums. The white chrysanthemum is a funeral flower in the East but Choi’s are deliberately reborn in bright red, invoking poppies or reincarnation.

Jeong Hwa Choi: Winter Garden (2013)

Jeong Hwa Choi: Winter Garden (2013). Image courtesy ISKA ART

The third section of the exhibition, ‘The Enduring War’, opens with a video projection by Yongbaek Lee, who represented Korea at the Venice Biennale 2011. Lee’s Angel-Soldier is camouflaged in flowers and is a playful take on the obligatory (yet far from leisurely) national army service in South Korea. This iconic image is juxtaposed with a slide show of 30 photographs that convey past and present images of the demilitarised zone (DMZ).

The exhibition revisits symbolic places and incidents of the division with Taeeun Kim’s Triple War. The three channel video screens his narrative, ‘The Marines Who Didn’t Come Home’ (1963), and ‘Wolmi Island’ (1983). Wil Bolton’s Baengnyeong Island was shot during his residency with the Incheon Art Platform, during which he travelled to South Korea’s northernmost island that borders North Korean territory. Seungah Paik’s large painting murals depict herself, a post-war generation artist, in meditational postures of Buddha, signifying the values of sacrifice and spirituality, as seen in MAITREYA. Similarly, the burnt candles placed on a chandelier by Woody Kim in Illusiomination (Illusion+Illumination) question the meaning of loss, and, inevitably, lost causes.

A Soldier’s Tale celebrates the close ties that Korea and the UK have maintained for the last 130 years since diplomatic relations began. Shan Hur fuses the ideas of friendship and memories in his installation Broken Prop. The exhibition aims to honour and protect such memories lest they fade away, as most British veterans of the Korean War are now in their 80s and 90s. Locco also retells their personal stories in a stone carving, We Won’t Fight For Another Rich Man’s war and Yongho Kim’s camera lens captures lotus leaves of Korea in the meditative Pian 2011-001, an oriental religious symbol of peaceful rebirth.

Hosted by ISKAI Contemporary Art & Incheon Art Platform
Curated by Stephanie Seungmin Kim
DMZ Photographic Exhibition is supported by Gyeonggi Tourism Organisation.
TV screens supported by Samsung Electronics
Exhibition is sponsored by Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Korea Tourism Organisation, Samsung Electronics, Auditorium and Asiana Airlines

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