Review of the London Korean year 2007

Having had the big programme of events of Think Korea 2006, I had thought that 2007 was going to be disappointing. But as it turned out the range of events in 2007 was if anything greater.

Performing arts

Dano B-boy by Samuel Cho
A B-boy at the Dano Festival in Trafalgar Square (Photo: Samuel Cho)

On the stage we have had a re-run of the martial arts comedy Jump and the same company’s follow-up b-boy slapstick production Breakout (aka Picnic). B-boys seemed to be everywhere, Last For One performing Spin Odyssey in London after a nationwide tour and a masterclass at London’s Roundhouse. The B-boy bandwagon gathered momentum in Edinburgh with three B-boy related shows (Spin Odyssey, Breakout and The Ballerina who loved B-boyz), while back in London they sparkled at the New Malden Festival and battled in the Trafalgar Square Dano Festival (picture, above, by Samuel Cho). More conventional dance was put on by Ballet Black, while the Edinburgh fringe had thirteen other events involving Korean artists.

We’ve had two Korean stage plays – Oh Tae-seok’s Bicycle and Yi Kang-baek’s Getting Married – and something more alternative: mime at the Barton Green theatre. Altogether an outstanding year.

Visual arts

One of the pictures from Mansudae Studios on show in Pall Mall
One of the pictures from Mansudae Studios on show in Pall Mall

We started the year with the continuation of the excellent Asia House show Through the Looking Glass and associated educational events. Throughout the UK, we’ve had Choi Jeong Hwa in Wolverhampton, Sora Kim at the Baltic, Gateshead, Francesca Cho at the East@West festival in Slough (she also participated in a show further afield, in Graz, and closer to home in the first New Malden Arts Festival), and Kira Kim in King’s Lyn.

We’ve also seen two bold commercial ventures this year:

  • David Heather’s exhibition of works from Pyongyang’s Mansudae Studios (above). The Mansudae show was immediately followed by a very brief me-too exhibition by arch-rivals Paekho, which was not up to Mansudae’s standard in terms of quality, but the sheer size of some of the work scored points. David scores the most marks for letting people know about an event well in advance. Too many other event organisers expect their potential audience to have the gift of second sight.
  • The establishment of I-MYU Projects in the King’s Cross area: congratulations to Yu Eun-bok and Im Jung-ae for taking this bold step of setting up their own gallery dedicated to contemporary Korean artists.
Ceramics by Roe Kyung-Jo
Ceramics by Roe Kyung-Jo

For ceramics, we’ve had Roe Kyung-jo (above) for sale in a commercial gallery in Bond Street, with the cream of Gyeongsangbuk-do potters showing in Mayfair, and a spotlight on the Choson dynasty Moon Jar at the British Museum; we’ve had monumental photography of the North Korean Mass Games by Andreas Gursky at the White Cube, and Korean contemporary photography at Ritter / Zamet. Other London-based Korean artists showing this year were Seunghee Kang plus two group shows in Finchley and Southwark.

Film

While the London Korean Film Festival organised by KACC / cne-uk took a break this year there was plenty of Korean film in London and elsewhere. Edinburgh had a good selection, as did the BFI London Film Festival. Separately there was a screening of the documentary Koryo Saram, with the director, at SOAS, Kim Soyong’s In Between Days at the ICA, and a couple of shorts courtesy of Futureshorts. Lee Myung-se’s The Duelist and probably other films reached the cinemas.

Madame Freedom
Madame Freedom – a classic film at the London Korean Film Festival

In addition to all that, the Korean Cultural Centre put on its second film festival, this time at the Barbican. It was great to have a London Korean Film Festival which you could pre-book, and it was also good to see a well-balanced programme of new and old again, as we had two years ago courtesy of KACC / cne. Sandwiched between Kim Ki-duk’s Breath and Park Chan-wook’s Cyborg (with the director present) was a good selection of recent film, plus two superb classics – My Mother and her Houseguest, and Madame Freedom (left). The festival’s roadshow to Warwick and Oxford was well-received.

Special events

Hanboks by Lee Rhee-zaThe other event led by the Cultural Centre this year was the interesting show of antique and modern hanbok at the Royal College of Art, which was linked with a Korean culture day at the nearby V&A. The Culture Centre also partnered with Dulsori and the British Museum in the Thames Festival and Chuseok celebrations. Both these open-air shows generated a lot of interest, but even higher-profile was the Dano Festival in Trafalgar Square organised by the Korean Cultural Promotion Agency. The New Malden Korean community, meanwhile, put on their annual open-air festival in Kingston, and a fun food festival.

Academia and discussions

On a more cerebral front we’ve had a full programme of free or nearly-free events put on by BAKS, SOAS, the Seoul-based Academy for Korean Studies, and Chatham House (I’m always amazed at the amount of on offer for free). Human rights have been the subject of discussion not only at Chatham House but also in the House of Lords and at Amnesty International’s UK office, with North Korea and the Comfort Woman issue under focus. More convivial matters were aired at the various Anglo-Korean Society events throughout the year.

Asia House had a quiet year as far as Korea was concerned, but still made room to host Keith Howard’s book launch and some traditional dance.

Off-the-wall

One of the privileges of running this site is that every now and then I hear of wacky events with a vague Korean connection (if only the organisers of more mainstream events could be as forthcoming with advance information…). The award for the most unusual event featured on this site this year goes to Christian Dior for the free makeovers in Selfridges featuring a multinational A-Team of make-up artists – including one Korean. At least three LKL readers took the opportunity to be catwalk fabulous for the day.

Unintentionally bizarre was the launch of the Korea, Sparkling brand to the travel industry and press. Neither Korean Air, Asiana nor the Korean Tourism Organisation could take the event seriously: Head Office had clearly not got the locals on-message – giving ammunition to those sceptics who think the message itself is limp and confused.

And finally

Western-style classical music events have included popera tenor Lim Hyung-joo at St John’s Smith Square, Byung-yun Yu conducting a Kayagum Concerto at the same venue, and the superb Sejong at the Cadogan Hall. And sporting-wise, we’ve experienced the London branch of the Red Devils supporters club turn out to carry South Korea to a victory over Greece at Craven Cottage.

I’ve probably forgotten several other Korea-related events, for which I apologise. But it’s certainly been a busy year. We look forward to an equally varied programme next year – with the Culture Centre established in its new premises.

Winner of the LKL award for event of the year, and cultural promoters of the year, will be announced tomorrow.

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