London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

The Shade of Prosperity – Korean art film / video art at Rivington Place, Hoxton

If you’ve seen Kim Ayoung‘s topical photo reconstructions before, or Hong Young-in‘s multicultural embroideries, you will be interested in seeing a new aspect to their work. Along with 3 other artsts – Kim Sejin, Kwon Hyewon and Japanese artist Saki Satom they are contributing to a collection of artistic films / video art in a well thought-out screening curated by Anna Art Project on Wednesday 5 December in the Shoreditch / Old Street area. I’ll definitely be there. Please RSVP to the email address below.

The Shade of Prosperity

Project Space 2, Rivington Place, Hoxton, EC2A 3BA
Wednesday, 5 December 2012 18:30
RSVP: [email protected]
Artists: Young in Hong | A young Kim | Se jin Kim | Hye won Kwon | Saki Satom
Curated by: Anna Miyoung Kim

The exhibition ‘The shade of prosperity’ draws attention to the ordinary people’s or the underclass’s lives in the history of modern East Asian countries’ economic development. Observation of each individual’s life is aiming to explore the shade of remarkable economic achievement through individuals’ inhuman experiences such as discrimination, inequality and repression. This will focus on the easily neglected human rights and depressed freedom of expression and also leave questions of ‘For whom the rapid economic development was planned and executed?’, ‘How minorities’ sacrifice can be justified for the good of majorities?’ and ‘Can economic development or society’s common goal harmoniously accompany individuals’ human rights?’

The modernization of Korea had been initiated since 1962 with the 5-Year Economic Development Plan (The 5-Year EDP1 ) by the authoritarian government with full control over economic and social system. The 5-Year EDP had achieved rapid economic growth and accumulated the country’s wealth at the expense of the underclass.

Unlike the government’s optimism towards the economic development, the lives of the underclass had become much harder, due to the government’s unjustifiably concentrated support on industrial giants (Chaebol) with a belief of ‘the trickle-down theory’2, which inevitably caused continuous inflation, speculation on real estate and a low wage policy, consequently led inequality in wealth-redistribution, bipolarization and unbalanced regional development. The underclass had never been considered in sharing the hard-earned wealth, rather been consciously ignored for the sake of country’s continuous modernization. The rapid modernization in comparatively short period of time, 30 years (100 years in the West) had left no room for consideration of the value of human rights.

Hyewon Kwon: Eight Men Lived in the Room series: News, 2010
Hyewon Kwon: Eight Men Lived in the Room series: News, 2010

The film series, ‘Eight Men Lived in the Room’ by Hyewon Kwon reflect 1960’s Korea when the government’s economic development plan called for cheap labour, resulting in migration from the rural. It is originated from a 45-second black and white news footage regarding the completion of a boarding house in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul. The boarding house had been built in 1962 for the migrant labourers who had worked in Seoul, the centre of modernization and it was demolished in 1999. With the demolition, oddly all the news and stories related to the boarding house had been wiped out from the National Archives of Korea. Artist had doubts about the disappearance of records and researched them through public presses such as newspapers, magazines and nobles. The film chronologically reveals the real stories of the poor and migrant labourers, which clearly explains why the records had been wiped out. Repeating a 45-second new footage in the film is recreating the very fact of disappearance of records.

Ayoung Kim: Please Return to Busan Port, 2012
Ayoung Kim: Please Return to Busan Port, 2012

Artist Ayoung Kim’s film, ‘Please Return to Busan Port’ describes a drug smuggler’s life in the late 80s Busan, the biggest harbour city in Korea, where foreign cultures flowed in and smuggling often happened. The film juxtaposes a drug smuggler’s life for living with images of 1986 Asian Games and 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, which symbolized the late 80’s Korea, a time of economic boom with hyper growth and modernization. Through the contrast between the life of the poor and nation’s prosperity, artist shows how the underclass’ lives had been imbalanced with others in the hyper growth society and also asks what the meaning of the accumulation of nation’s wealth to individuals is. And also the contrasting images of re-winding Asian and Olympic Games and smuggler’s bicycle riding imply the underclass’ hope that the prosperous society can wait for their catch-up and accompany with them. The title of the film, ‘Please Return to Busan Port’ is named after an old Korean pop song, played through the whole film. Repeating ‘Return to Busan’ in the lyric of the song, linked to the city where smuggler had lived, appeals for audience to focus on the lives of the underclass.

Sejin Kim: Sleeping Sun, 2012
Sejin Kim: Sleeping Sun, 2012

The film ‘Sleeping Sun’ expresses the dream or delusion of developing countries. Artist Sejin Kim applies a device which converts the location to the time on her film with an idea, ‘the present of developed countries is the future of developing countries’. A stranger from developing country travels developed country, as if she is a time traveller came from the past. It reminds the desire for the modernization, but delusion with absence of important values.

Despite the government’s intervention has been decreased recently in Korea, the Neo-liberalistic capitalism has been rooted in since late 1990’s. And it brought tax cuts, privatization and deregulation of the industry and in employment protection, which resulted in inequality among classes and bipolarization. And the philosophy of Neo-liberalism, ‘Human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade3 made the society accept ‘competition’ as the absolute social value to pursue and it alienated the underclass, not able to compete due to inherited social class, further.

Sejin Kim: Night Workers, 2009
Sejin Kim: Night Workers, 2009

Night Workers’, the film of Sejin Kim closely describes 2 night workers’ lives, a security guard in a building and a tollgate fee collector. By simply displaying mundane and routine lives, artist explores night workers’ loneliness, isolation and alienation from the mainstream society. Their isolation and alienation have been deepened by the view or perception of mainstream people in the very society they belong to. Neo-liberalism, which brought ‘competition’ in all the area of social and economic system, has formed the perception, ‘Fallen behind the competition’ and/or ‘Redundant’.

Youngin Hong: Miners' Orange, 2009
Youngin Hong: Miners’ Orange, 2009

Miners’ Orange’ by artist Youngin Hong is a parade project where around 500 local people of Gohan and Sabuk in Korea are participated in. Parade with orange coloured costumes symbolizes the regional history. Some participants wore traditional miners’ uniforms and the others wore bright orange coloured hats, gloves, sashes and balloons since orange colour means vitality with endurance. The parade was initiated in response to local peoples’ struggles, new regional development brought in. As a part of the 5-Year EDP in 1960’s, the region met economic boom by coal mining but the prosperity had been diminished since the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games due to environmental protection law. Faced depleted local economy, the locals filed a petition to bring casino business with a desperate hope to bring economic boom back again. However, all the wealth generated by casinos went to the migrant investors and the locals were left over with the by-products of casino business; prostitution, bankrupt gamblers and crimes. Government faithfully followed Neo-liberalism law by allowing ‘competition winners’ to open casinos, but the locals couldn’t be the winner in the competition due to the lack of capital.

Japan had completed modernization much earlier than Korea. The economic boom soared until 1980s and in this period, all the members of society enjoyed the security and protection provided by company umbrella in return for their loyalty. Thus in Japan, the groups’ value is put ahead of individuals’. And each individual’s identities are defined as members of the groups rather than independent persons with their own individualities. Also uniformity of social organization for the utmost efficiency is highly respected, so the harmony and conformity of collectives are the most important aim for their society than diversity of individuals’ personalities.

Saki Satom: From B to H, 2002
Saki Satom: From B to H, 2002

Saki Satom has been exploring human behaviour in social norms but refuses to be a conformist. In her film ‘From B to H’, a ballerina dances freely with a music in an empty lift of an office building, but soon stops her dance and turned into an ordinary person, a conformist when people get in. And all her movements are being watched by surveillance camera installed inside. She discloses that creative expressions are suppressed by social norms and individuals’ lives cannot escape from being monitored. The film explores the modern Japanese’s lives as anonymous for the conformity of their society, but also their desire for expressing individualities in the controlled society.

* e-catalogue is available at

  1. The 5-Year EDP: The plans were designed to increase wealth within South Korea and strengthen political stability. A change in policy from import substitution industrialization to export-oriented growth occurred throughout these five-year plans. South Korea had seven five-year plans under the auspices of the Economic Planning Board, a state bureaucracy pilot agency. []
  2. The trickle down theory: The idea that tax breaks or other economic benefits provided by government to businesses and the wealthy will benefit poorer members of society by improving the economy as a whole. []
  3. David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, (Oxford university press, 2005): The book provides an historical examination of the theory and divergent practices of neoliberalism since the mid-1970s. It conceptualizes the neoliberalized global political economy as a system that benefits few at the expense of many, and which has resulted in the (re)creation of class distinction through what Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession”. []

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