Matthew Jackson reports from last Thursday’s gallery talk at the KCC
I had assumed that the Nam June Paik talk by Jiyoon Lee would take the form of a tour around the gallery itself. The schedule of the evening was fuller than I had expected, and required the setting of the ‘Sejong Room’ on the basement level, newly fitted out with lecture-room tables and an LG flat screen TV of considerable proportions.
The talk material had evidently been prepared very carefully for a non-Korean audience, which was much appreciated by those non-Koreans who did make it (in spite of the late announcement).
Jiyoon Lee is an independent curator, and director of the London-based SUUM Project, which brought us Through the Looking Glass at Asia House last year. An intense and engaging speaker, she devoted the greater portion of the talk to the history of contemporary of Korean art, thus providing a context for the current exhibition.
The development of contemporary art in Korea was encumbered for most of the 20th century, first by the Japanese occupation, then the Korean War, and finally the extended period of military rule.
The key turning point was 1989, when restrictions on foreign travel were lifted for Korean citizens. This being accompanied by economic prosperity, many Korean artists were finally free to go and study abroad.
Since then Korean contemporary art, though still ‘young’ by European and US standards, has been gaining prominence both in auction houses and galleries around the world.
Ms. Lee of course showed many examples of Korean contemporary art in the course of this narrative. As well as drawing out the link between the messages contained in the art works and the socio-political trends of the day, she made the point that Korean artists tend to rank the labour that goes into creating a piece of work as highly as the concept itself.
This was evident from Gwon Osang’s painstaking human sculptures composed of hundreds of photographs of the person in question (example above), and seems to be a trait in Korean art throughout the ages.
After this detailed historical perspective, Jiyoon Lee turned to the exhibition itself. Devoting minimal time to the exhibition pieces (presumably on the basis that they should be seen and not heard), she spoke at some length about Nam June Paik, a pioneer and patron of the Korean contemporary art scene.
His approach was ‘collaborative’ above all else, she emphasised, and this was reflected in the cross-cultural nature of many of the works on display (see right, Miyeon Yoon’s Elizabeth 1). She went so far as to say that her hope for the Cultural Centre was for it to become a place not only for Korean art, but artists from all cultural backgrounds.
She ended with an explanation of the curious title of the exhibition. In 1984, Paik staged a media-themed exhibition entitled Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, through which he aimed to demonstrate the ability of a pervasive media to serve positive ends. Jiyoon Lee felt that the continuation of Nam June Paik’s spirit in the young contemporary artists of today merited a more positive title for a commemoration of his death, hence, Good Morning, Mr. Nam June Paik.
My thanks are due once again to the KCC for what was definitely another stimulating evening.