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Exhibition visit: Kim Beom’s School of Inversion

Kim Beom is known for his videos of very serious Korean TV newsreaders, their newscasts chopped into a thousand pieces and spliced back together word by word to create nonsense stories. Londoners were introduced to his work back in 2006 as part of the Asia House group show Through the Looking Glass and Untitled (News) (2002) was one of the more easily approachable works in that landmark exhibition.

Kim Beom: Stills from Untitled (News), 2002 Single channel video, 1min 4sec
Kim Beom: Stills from Untitled (News), 2002 Single channel video, 1min 4sec. © The artist 2012

His similarly po-faced Painting “Yellow Scream” is one of the items on show at the Hayward Gallery in his current entertaining solo exhibition School of Inversion.

Installed in the foyer to the main gallery, it plays in a constant loop with the sound turned off, presumably to avoid sending the cloakroom staff crazy. Why should they be turned crazy?

The artist, in a dead-pan, earnest way, gives solemn instructions, in the manner of a DIY home improvement video, on how to create an abstract expressionist painting called “Yellow Scream”. You can do this at home folks. Get a canvas, select some paints and a No 4 paintbrush available from most hardware stores, and get started.

But this is no ordinary painting. It is full of emotion and anguish. And to communicate that anguish to your viewer, you have to scream as you drag your brush across the canvas, so that the very paint is laden with grief. Aaaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhhhh! for the long strokes. Argh! for the staccato strokes. You can see why the Hayward Gallery staff might want the volume turned down.

Let's add some sorrow-filled screams now
Kim Beom: Still from ‘Painting “Yellow Scream”‘ (2012). © The artist 2012

“Let’s mix in a bit of burnt umber to this anguished scream from the heart,” he suggests. Standing back from the canvas he enthuses: “A brown tone filled with regret. Isn’t it great?”

This sense of fun is continued upstairs. A wildlife video greets you at the entry to the main exhibition. And you almost ignore it because it looks like so many other wildlife documentaries. But then you look again. A cheetah is sprinting across an African plain. An antelope is similarly travelling at high speed. But Kim Beom has inverted the usual roles, and it’s the antelope chasing the cheetah, not the other way round.

Kim Beom: Spectacle (2010). Single channel video (Courtesy of Artsonje Centre)
Kim Beom: Spectacle (2010). Single channel video (Courtesy of Artsonje Centre via Seoul Art Fiend) © The artist 2012

Another item that you almost miss: a couple of architectural drawings on the side wall. At first sight they look unremarkable. But then you look closely at them, and it’s as if MC Escher has had a go at designing a school. You’re not quite sure whether you’re looking at a plan view or a section view. Stairs go up at either end of the 5-storey building, suggesting you’re looking at a side view; but top left and top right is a door that leads nowhere. The work could be considered a bit of fun, or, as suggested in the commentary to the exhibition, Kim could be “implying that our school systems require drastic reorganisation.”

Kim Beom: Draft of a School of Inversion
Kim Beom: A Draft of a School of Inversion 2009, Blueprint, 83x59cm
Courtesy of the artist and Maeil Dairies Co. Ltd. © The artist 2012

Then comes what is perhaps the main part of the exhibition: two quite similar installations – Objects Being Taught They are Nothing but Tools and A Rock That Learned the Poetry of Jung Jiyong (both 2010). Both installations encourage us to reflect on the nature and purpose of education, and on the nature of things. In contemplating the rock, as a Confucian sage might, we wonder whether it is any different because it has been absorbing the lyric poetry of a poet known as a “magician of language”.1

Kim Beom: A Rock That Learned the Poetry of JUNG Jiyong 2010
Kim Beom: A Rock That Learned the Poetry of JUNG Jiyong (2010), 1 Channel video, 12hr 11 min, video still. Courtesy of the artist and Maeil Dairies Co. Ltd. © The artist 2012

We look at the array of household objects (kitchen scales, a watering can, an electric fan) lined up in front of a blackboard, watching a video of a lecturer whose head is mysteriously cropped. They are being educated to know their place in the world. They are tools, on this earth to be used by humans. They should not get any ideas to the contrary. On the one hand, the very thought of lecturing an inanimate object is humorous, but we cannot help thinking that motive of education should be empowering and improving the educated, not suppressing them.

Objects Being Taught They are Nothing but Tools
Installation view at Artsonje Center of ‘Objects Being Taught They are Nothing but Tools’, 2010
Daily objects, wooden chairs, wooden tables, blackboard with fluorescent light, 1 channel video (21min 8sec) on TV monitor, dimensions variable.
Courtesy of the artist and Artsonje Center, Seoul. © The artist 2012. Photo: Park Myung Rae

A nicely curated exhibition, then, which plays with the nature of education but which more than anything else is rather fun.

Kim Beom: The School of Inversion is at the Hayward Gallery Project Space, 17 July – 2 September 2012. The exhibition is part of All Eyes on Korea and the South Bank Centre’s Festival of the World.


  1. According to the commentary accompanying the exhibition, Jung Jiyong (c 1902 – c 1953) was mistakenly believed to have defected to North Korea, and his poetry was almost taboo in the South. But now his poems are taught regularly in South Korean schools. []

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