A review of the London Korean Year 2014

2014 was billed as the year of Korean literature, and it lived up to expectations. A number of programmes were geared towards spotlighting Korean literature, central to which was the London Book Fair, where Korea was the Market Focus for the year in an ongoing initiative coordinated by the British Council.

The Book Fair itself gave rise to a busy five days of talks and events in London, with collateral events in Aberyswyth, Edinburgh and Cambridge. And continuing the efforts throughout the year we had visiting writers in Norwich (Bae Suah) and Edinburgh (Kim Aeran)

The KCC supported the literature focus with its own events: screenings of films which are adaptations of Korean novels; a series of monthly book group meetings where a dozen or so readers would discuss well-known texts; their first exhibition of the year focused on Korean printing and typefaces; and the first of their four Film Professionals of the year was a screenwriter. Later in the year the KCC’s London Korean Film Festival featured adaptations of classic short stories from the 1930s (This Road Called Life from Studio Meditation with a Pencil) and one from the current century (Im Kwon-taek’s adaptation of Kim Hoon’s Hwajang). It was a shame that E J-yong’s adaptation of Kim Aeran’s My Palpitating Life could not complete the hat-trick.

Ahn Sung-ki
Ahn Sung-ki talks about making Hwajang following its screening as the closing gala of the London Korean Film Festival on 15 November 2014

The literature focus was fortuitously given added impetus by Dalkey Archive’s ongoing series of Korean novels in translation, as well as the Asia Publishers series of bilingual texts, which at the time of writing now extends to 90. And mainstream publishers also brought out translations from Kim Hyesoon, Shin Kyung-sook, Gong Ji-young among others.

The London Book Fair was such a treat that looking back over the year it tends to eclipse almost everything else that took place. But among the other highlights were the Korean music strand in the City of London Festival: Ensemble Sinawi were outstanding in their concert of creative gugak and fusion music, while there were a number of Western classical music concerts including a Sunwook Kim piano recital and Beethoven’s 9th with a Korean line-up. The latter was conducted by Myung-whun Chung, who also brought the Seoul Philharmonic to a well-reviewed BBC Proms. His sister Kyung-wha Chung made a welcome return to the concert platform in the UK in December.

Lee Bul - artist of the year 2014 at the KCC
Lee Bul – artist of the year 2014 at the KCC

Exhibitions at the KCC showed an adventurous streak: the above-mentioned typeface exhibition was followed by the more conceptual Inventing Temperature inspired by the writings of philosopher of science Chang Ha-sok. The specially commissioned installation by Lee Bul was literally a show-stopper (the multipurpose space was part of the installation, so that films had to be screened downstairs). The regular residency from the Korean Artists Association maintained its high standards, while the year started and finished with accessible exhibitions from young Korean designers: fashion and jewellery.

Rejina Pyo
Rejina Pyo’s work at the KCC

Important one-off events outside of the regular cultural calendar included:

It’s probably also worth mentioning the increased frequency of events focused on North Korean human rights, with the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea promoting a series of talks on defector memoirs, and regular tie-in sessions with the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. Separately, Theatre 4 All is working with the Metropolitan Police’s Korean Community Liaison Officer in Kingston to build bridges between the communities and assist the population of North Koreans in New Maldon.

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