The London Korean Links Awards 2013

Now in its eighth year, here are the LKL Awards 2013.

The year has been both good and bad from LKL’s perspective. Good because there seem to have been more events, more books, more films and more music than ever before as Korean culture gets more and more public attention. And bad because our day job has exploded this year so that we haven’t had a chance to read, watch, attend a representative sample in any category.

So these awards, which have always been eclectic, are even more so this year. What would you have chosen?

Personality of the Year

A lot of people have had good years. But I’m going to focus on two UK based artists who’ve had particularly outstanding ones.

Runner up

Daegeum player Hyelim Kim has been very active this year: performing (London Jazz festival, Asia House, Royal Asiatic Society and elsewhere), talking on Radio 3, recording her CD, and becoming a PhD at SOAS. She capped the year with a four-star review in Songlines magazine for her CD.

Winner

Meekyoung Shin's Toilet Project 2004-2013
Meekyoung Shin’s Toilet Project 2004-2013, on display at the National Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, Gwacheon

If Dr Kim seemed to be everywhere on the musical scene, Meekyoung Shin was everywhere in visual arts. Planning permission was extended for her Plinth Project in Cavendish Square, she participated in group shows in London, Beckenham and Paris; two solo shows in London (Sumarria Lunn and KCCUK) and was one of four artists shortlisted for the Korea Artist Prize 2013. Although her exhibition in the National Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art in Gwacheon did not win her the prize, for LKL it was the most artistically satisfying and aesthetically pleasing.

London exhibition of the year

The shortlist

The shortlist this year is rather long – it’s been a great year for Korean art

Ceramics by Kim So-yeop at Mokspace
Ceramics by Kim So-yeop at Mokspace

Winner

Works by Anna Paik (left) and Soonhak Kwon
Works by Anna Paik (left) and Soonhak Kwon specially commissioned for A Soldier’s Tale

A Soldier’s Tale at Asia House, curated by Stephanie Seungmin Kim, a collection of recent and new work, some of it specially commissioned for the exhibition. Probably the highest profile group show outside of the commercial galleries was at Asia House, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War ceasefire. A wealth of new work was commissioned specially for the exhibition, including a portrait of a war veteran by Anna Paik and a moving recreation of the veteran’s living room and all its patriotic memorabilia by Kwon Soonhak.

Exhibition of the year outside of London

There has been plenty to entertain and delight outside of London. In Venice, Kimsooja’s stunning pavilion at the Biennale was something completely fresh, and the group show Who is Alice at Lightbox displayed a virtuoso selection of works from the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s collection – though not all seemed to fit with the Wonderland theme.

Kim Young-won caught the attention of the citizens of Padua, while Haegue Yang had the honour of being the first to be commissioned for a site-specific work for the Haus der Kunst in Munich.

In Korea, the MMCA’s exhibition of the four Korea Artist Prize contestants featured Meekyoung Shin among others.

Nam June Paik Resounds
Still images of Nam June Paik’s various videos, Courtesy of the Nam June Paik Art Center Video Archives © Nam June Paik Estate. From the exhibition Transmitted Live: Nam June Paik Resounds at the Talbot Rice Gallery

But the exhibition where I tarried most was the tribute to Nam June Paik at the Edinburgh International Festival: a very different perspective on his work from that we saw at the Tate Liverpool recently, and one which made the best use of the interesting and varied space of the Talbot Rice Gallery.

Album of the year

Lee Hyori shows off her thigh gap in the Miss Korea MV
Lee Hyori shows off her thigh gap in the Miss Korea MV

No award this year in the pop, indie or jazz genre. We enjoyed Na Youn Sun’s Lento, but we have been recommending her work for so long now that if we do it again it’ll look as if we’re her paid promoters. We also enjoyed Pastel Music’s 3-CD compilation with Kim Ha-neul entitled Sky, and Lee Hyori’s Monochrome was a guilty pleasure for the catchy track (and video) Miss Korea. But we simply haven’t been really bowled over by anything this year in these categories, though we’d be very pleased to hear of the great albums we’ve missed out on.

Hyelim Kim: Nim
Nim: Hyelim Kim Taegum Collection

Outside of these genres, but a disk that crosses many, is Hyelim Kim’s Taegum collection entitled Nim. The disk goes from solo literati music through to Kim’s own composition for taegum and electronics. A great introduction to the flute’s capabilities, the CD has been in my player a lot since it was released in May this year. A worthy winner of album of the year.

Film of the year

Park Shin-yang as the shaman gangster in Man on the Edge
Park Shin-yang as the shaman gangster in Man on the Edge

There have been many films that I wish I’d had the time to watch this year: among them Jiseul, The Face Reader, Moebius, Mai Ratima and Secretly Greatly. In fact, I haven’t really had time to keep track of those films that are out there as noteworthy – after all, according to the KOFIC database as many as 150 films were produced this year (though this includes international productions such as Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer). The Korean box office had a record-breaking year, which is encouraging.

E J-yong in his mind-bending mockumentary Behind the Camera
E J-yong in his mind-bending mockumentary Behind the Camera

Among those I have had the chance to see, there have been some high quality thrillers (The Terror Live, Hide and Seek), a high-quality drama (Lee Joon-ik’s Hope) and a disappointingly sickly feelgood movie (Miracle in Cell 7). Probably the film I enjoyed most of all the commercial productions was Man on the Edge, a deliriously entertaining gangster comedy with a shamanistic twist. But the film I wanted to watch again immediately after seeing it the first time – and I’m therefore looking forward to the region 2 DVD release next year – is E J-yong’s Behind the Camera, a mind-bendingly confusing, hilarious and affectionate critique on film-making. Completely delicious, like his previous mockumentary, Actresses.

Book of the year

In the run-up to Korea’s appearance as focus country for the London Book Fair 2014, but not necessarily with that in mind, there has been a wealth of Korean literature in translation published this year.

First and foremost, Dalkey Archive has published the first of its Library of Korean Literaturewhose titles were selected by Dalkey editors from a range of titles on offer from LTI Korea. Based on the first batch, they have chosen wisely.

Second, Charles Montgomery over at KTLit.com welcomes the 45-volume Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature Collection, though at $354 for the set ($118 for each of three 15-book boxes) you’ll want to save up for it. While Asia Publishers’ collection focuses on post-war fiction, Seoul Selection’s 5-volume collection of Korean Classic Stories focuses on tales from the Joseon dynasty, coming in at $45. Neither of these two above collections seem to be listed on Amazon.co.uk, and even on Amazon.com they’re hard to find. So until these publishers get their act together, they won’t be reaching the audience that presumably they’re targeting. No such problem for Seoul Selection’s publication of Brother Anthony’s translations of Eerie Tales from Old Korea, which are worth tracking down.

Outside of literature, there has been the long-awaited Korean volume of the Directory of World Cinema, Joan Kee’s Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Methodacademic books too numerous to mention, and a collection of short stories featuring LKL’s favourite detectives, Ernie Bascom and George Sueño.

North Korea inspired its fair share of publications, too, and probably far more than I have time to catalogue. The two that caught my attention, for very different reasons, were Andrei Lankov’s The Real North Korea, which is definitely on my reading list, and John Sweeney’s spin-off from his controversial North Korea Undercover TV documentary, which is not.

My runner-up for book of the year is one that spans both Koreas: a beautiful collection of inspiring photographs of the peaks which form Korea’s mountain backbone: Baekdu Daegan Korea, self-published by Hike Korea‘s Roger Shepherd. Here are photographs of North Korea that you won’t see among the interminable collections of “never-before-seen” images from the world’s most secretive state. From Baekdusan to Jirisan via the major peaks in between, this is a collection that reinforces a desire for reunification more than any political tract, as well as being a welcome addition to any coffee table.

Jang Eun-jin with the Korean and English versions of her novel
Jang Eun-jin with the Korean and English versions of her novel

The book of the year is from the Dalkey Archive collection mentioned above, Jang Eun-jin’sNo One Writes Back, translated by Jung Yewon. Maybe if I’d had time to read more of them, this one would not be top of the list, but this is a novel which deserves not to be ring-fenced in the “foreign literature” section of a bookstore, because it speaks across boundaries.

Live Event of the year

London now seems to be on the map for at least those K-pop world tours which include Europe. This year we’ve had Super Junior, Infinite and Jay Park plus a brief appearance from 2PM, and probably others that I didn’t notice. We didn’t manage to get to the three main gigs, but it was entertaining to see 2PM at the KOTRA-sponsored Korea Brand and Entertainment Expo which coincided with President Park’s State Visit.

London also a Korean music festival – featuring acts from traditional through to indie – and was a stopping-off point for a UK tour by four rock bands sponsored by Hyundai Cards. We also had probably the weirdest ever performance by a Korean musician on the stage of the South Bank – Amadeus Leopold (the stage name of Yoo Hanbin) playing a range of classical works in a range of bondage outfits.

Goonamguayeoridingstella at the Tunbridge Wells Forum on 24 April 2013
Goonamguayeoridingstella at the Tunbridge Wells Forum on 24 April 2013

We’ve also had excellent pansori performances by outstanding performers. But neither of those performances can hope to make it to event of the year: the promoters did not have enough courage to give us more than half an hour’s worth of the two epics featured. Hardly enough to get you engrossed in the story – and with pansori the story is everything.

Joint runners up for live event of the year are

  • Hyelim Kim with Notes Inegales at the London Jazz Festival: daegeum improvising with jazz trumpet, soprano trombone and more. Unique music-making.
  • The Korea Rocks UK tour, featuring Apollo 18, Galaxy Express, Gate Flowers and especially Goonamgwayoridingstella. Loud, energetic and exciting stuff.
National Orchestra of Korea at the Barbican
Won Il receives the well-deserved ovation on the Barbican stage with the National Orchestra of Korea on 14 June 2013

Equally loud and exciting were LKL’s winners, the National Orchestra of Korea on the Barbican stage, performing a range of new music and arrangements on traditional Korean instruments under the baton of Won Il. Simply superb.

Thanks to all the artists, performers, organisers and sponsors for an outstanding year.

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