What were my highspots of the London Korean Year 2015? Read the below for some clues:
2015 was definitely the year that Korean food started consolidating its position in the UK. Here are a few highlights:
- The Anglo-Korean sauce company Yogiyo! got funding in business reality show Dragons’ Den;
- Judy Joo’s Jinjuu opened off Regent Street and got a coveted listing in the Michelin Guide;
- Chef Joo Won created a Korean Tasting Menu at the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows in the Park Lane Hilton.
- In London, new restaurants were opened by CheeMc, On the Bap and Bibimbap, and Chef Kim moved from Bermondsey to the City: his K-Place became LKL’s favourite eatery.
- Fashion designer Rejina Pyo with her husband Jordan Bourke brought out what is probably the UK’s first user-friendly cookery book devoted to Korean food
- In Glasgow, Kimchi Cult opened in permanent premises.
Exhibitions and the art scene
Is it my imagination, or was there not quite so much going on this year in London? The scene has been going into a slight decline since the change in the visa rules, but as I look back 2015 seems to be a step change. Here are some of the factors leading to a smaller number of exhibitions this year:
- Sadly, it was the year when HADA Contemporary closed its doors in Bethnal Green,
- Mokspace seemed to have run out of energy, remaining empty for most of the year.
- Hanmi Gallery focused on the London fairs (Art15 and London Art Fair) and on their new Seoul gallery space while they work on revamping their London premises.
In fact for contemporary Korean art probably the commercial exhibition to visit this year was in Cologne, at Choi & Lager. On the positive side, two new galleries arrived on the Mayfair scene in February:
- Omer Tiroche in Conduit Street, a generalist whose second exhibition was a big show of established and emerging Korean artists. The same gallery had a big splash at Art15 with work by Lee Ufan and Chun Kwang-young among others.
- Skipwiths, a Korean and Chinese specialist, who brought Chun Kwang-young to Bernard Jacobson Gallery in 2014. Their inaugural exhibition featured Park Hyojin and Chun Kwang-young, artists who were also included at the Skipwiths stall at Art15.
Probably the biggest commercial exhibition in London this year was Lee Ufan at the Lisson Gallery, and the biggest non-commercial show was Park Chan-kyong at INIVA, including a screening of his documentary Sindoan. Outside of London the major exhibitions included Suh Do-ho exhibited in Bristol and Chun Kwang-young in Edinburgh.
Among the most active of the artists we’ve got to know in London were;
- Hur Shan – a solo show of new work at Gazelli Art House and a work in the churchyard of St Helen’s Bishopsgate as part of Sculpture in the City.
- Shin Meekyoung – a solo show at HADA Contemporary (HADA’s last) to start the year and an exhibition at Hakgojae Shanghai to finish it (many more in between). Her work was rewarded with a Prudential Eye award in January.
The KCC continued its trend of putting on intellectually challenging shows through its Call for Artist and Artist of the Year exhibitions which featured Sora Kim and Yva Jung. Also, in a collaboration with Tate Modern the KCC presented an equally challenging and at times very rewarding series of experimental film screenings, highlighting Korea’s contribution to this often ignored genre. The KCC’s engagement with fashion continued with a striking exhibition of work by Korean designers coinciding with London Fashion Week.
East of the City, CASS put on an interesting exhibition of award-winning young Korean architects.
Hmm. So this section of the post has ended up being the longest. Will any of the exhibitions end up in the shortlist at the bottom?
Some of the events that stick in the memory:
- The K-Music festival returned to venues around London.
- A number of K-pop groups came to London, usually selling out in a very short time.
- Thankfully, some indie bands came too: Juck Juck Grunzie, Dead Buttons, Patients and Third Stone.
- At the more experimental end of things, Cafe OTO hosted Okkyung Lee and Han-earl Park, and Redchurch Brewery hosted Tengger.
- The Korean Festival in Trafalgar Square surpassed expectations in terms of audience numbers, and the punters were queuing up from early morning to bag the best spots to see girl band f(x).
- Kingston Welcomes Korea put on an impressive collection of performances
With all the above, it’s a real challenge to highlight the best. I’m sorry I missed No Brain at K-Music as I’m sure that would have been in high up on my shortlist.
The KCC organised its 10th London Korean Film Festival, which was full of interesting things while also seeming less hectic than the last couple of years. The festival included masterclasses, interviews and a conference, and glitz was added by appearances from A-list actors Hwang Jung-min and Moon So-ri.
On a smaller scale, Raindance hosted a documentary on the North Korean who calls himself Sun Mu, and Kings College hosted a screening by Kim So-young combined with a talk about her trilogy of documentaries featuring the Korean experience in the former Soviet Union.
SOAS, in collaboration with the KCC, presented a welcome week of film adaptations of Korean novels, designed to coincide with the London Book Fair. And we got a chance to see Diving Bell, the controversial Sewol documentary which caused trouble with the Busan film fest.
Talks and seminars
We were blessed with literary visits: Han Kang became the latest Korean author to achieve prominence, launching The Vegetarian with translator Deborah Smith; Hwang Sok-yong came to London to launch Princess Bari (tr Sora Kim-Russell); and Ko Un returned to the KCC with Brother Anthony to read a wide selection of his poems. Brother Anthony also gave us an appreciation of Korean tea in an evening which he presented with Tea Master Hyoam.
Also at the KCC Lee Ufan gave a fascinating talk to coincide with his Lisson Gallery exhibition. Full marks to Rho Seh-hyun for interpreting.
And so, what will LKL remember most fondly from 2015? Here’s what:
- Chef Joo Won’s Tasting Menu at the Park Lane Hilton
- Jambinai at the Rich Mix as part of K-Music 2015
- The Lee Kwang-guk focus at the 10th London Korean Film Festival
- Won Il and YMAP at Kingston Welcomes Korea.
- Conferences on Comfort Women at Sheffield, East Asian Art History at SOAS and Korean paper at the V&A, and meeting North Korean refugees in New Malden.
Thanks to all the organisers and sponsors for making these events possible.