The London Korean year 2008 – events of the year

It’s been a busy year, a year of change. A new cultural centre, a re-launched Artists’ Association, new ambassadors in both London and Seoul. Jane Portal left the British Museum for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, while Michael Shin became the first full-time Korean Studies lecturer at Cambridge. Down in New Malden, things got a bit messy with the elections for the chairmanship of the residents’ association, the battle for leadership resulting in a legal tangle, the unfortunate side effect of which was the lack of a committee to oversee the annual festival on the Fairfield recreation ground in Kingston.

But there were plenty of other events to enjoy, and here’s LKL’s pick of the best.

Noridan in Trafalgar Square

Noridan swing on their recycled Sprocket
Noridan in Trafalgar SquareAfter the successful first Dano event in Trafalgar Square in 2007, organiser Justina Jang had no option but to aim for something even better for 2008. Yoon Do Hyun was sure to draw in the crowds among young Asians in London, but the real hit of the day were the colourful environmental percussionists Noridan. With their incredible energy and humour they caught the imagination of the crowd and everyone was sorry when Noridan’s sets ended. Congratulations to Justina for taking the risk in bringing the innovative group over for their European debut, which was a spectacular success.

Links: read all the articles about the 8 June Dano Festival

Baramgot at St Giles’s Cripplegate


Another discovery of Justina Jang’s Korean Cultural Promotion Agency, Baramgot had the audience in this quiet city church spellbound with their combination of electrifying modern compositions for traditional instruments performed alongside more classical works.

Kim Soo-heeLinks: Review of Baramgot’s 6 November performance

Kim Soo-hee at St John’s Smith Square

Laid on by the Residents’ Association before their unfortunate bout of organisational paralysis, this concert was a gem. It wasn’t the ideal venue for the trot diva, but a real pro can hold an audience’s attention anywhere. The Koreans in the audience were of course familiar with her music. The two foreigners in the audience (both representing LKL) didn’t know what to expect, but came away Ms Kim’s most ardent fans.

Links: We Love Kim Soo-hee.

Im Sang-soo at the KCC

Some thought that it was a disaster waiting to happen. A high-profile director – without much English – doing a question and answer session for more than an hour; no “big name” K-film specialist to chair the event; and as far as we were aware no-one in the audience well-briefed enough to ask an intelligent question. What could go right? But far from being an embarrassment, the event was probably the best at the KCC all year. The discussion flowed freely; there were no daft questions; no-one had any particular obscure point they wanted to belabour; and we had lots of humour and some fascinating insights into Director Im’s work. In the past couple of year’s we’ve had Q & A sessions with Park Chan-wook, Kim Ji-woon, Hang Sang-hee and Kwak Kyung-taek. This one was the pick of the crop.

Links: Im Sang-Soo Uncut, Kay’s verbatim transcript of the evening.

Jump! at the Thames Festival

With the Dano festival now (hopefully) a permanent fixture on the London events calendar, Korean participation in the Thames Festival, falling conveniently close to Chuseok, also now looks like becoming a new tradition. Last year Dulsori led the charge in organising Korea’s participation. This year the Cultural Centre took over. Perhaps with a bigger budget this time round, and with the triumphant success of 2007 as endorsement, the Korean Village had a much better location this year, closer to the centre of things. B-boy group Last For One made an appearance, but most of the visitors seemed to find a cut-down version of the hit stage show Jump! to be the main attraction.

Links: Read two accounts of the Thames Festival and a review of Jump! (the stage show)

4482 at the Bargehouse

Non-commercial exhibitions of visual arts, while containing individual items of interest, have in general been disappointing this year. Possibly the most satisfying exhibition at the Cultural Centre has been one which, on paper at least, offered the least potential: but the collection of reproductions of antique maps provided both visual and historical stimulation. With the more conventional exhibitions, the emphasis has been displaying the diversity of talent of a wide range of artists, meaning that curators have not been able to linger over the contribution of a particular individual, while the very diversity has made it difficult to present a coherent narrative. Paradoxically, it has been the commercial galleries which have put on exhibitions enabling a more in-depth consideration of an artist’s work and the issues (s)he is exploring. I-MYU Projects have continued their championing of Korean and other Asian artists – many of them London-based – and Union Gallery have also featured two Korean artists this year. I particularly enjoyed the parallel exhibitions of landscape artists at the two galleries. Those into minimalist art could enjoy the work of Lee Ufan at the Lisson Gallery, while a Soho bar hosted the simple cartoon-like work of Won Jaeran, and a Fulham surgery provided the space for a retrospective of the shimmeringly beautiful early work of Francesca Cho. Down in New Malden, the New Days Gallery hosted a number of visiting artists. But the exhibition I have chosen to represent the Korean visual arts scene in London this year is 4482: a huge exhibition of work by forty Korean artists working in London, held in a large gallery space in the OXO Tower wharf. Yes, it had the flaws of other multi-artist exhibitions in that you could not get an in-depth perspective of an individual artist, but the organisers tried to give another angle to the show by holding a panel session discussing the experiences of artists, curators and gallery owners trying to promote Korean artists in London. And to think that there are so many artists in London alone says something about the creative energy emanating from Korea.

Links:

Housemaid at the Korean Film Festival

For me, the highlight of this year’s Korean film festival at the Barbican was not the high-profile headline film (The Good the Bad and the Weird), but the classic Kim Ki-young film, still going through restoration. Oh, and of course getting my photo taken with handsome heartthrob Lee Byung-hun.

Links: read all articles relating to the Korean Film Festival 2008

Here’s hoping we are treated to some equally stimulating events in 2009.

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