Hey, how many sides has the globe?
Ever thought about which side of the globe you occupy – the East or the West, the North or the South? And then have you wondered whether this actually means anything? In the times of British colonial rule, scholars referred to the Occident and the Orient officially in terms of hemispheric position or location but also unofficially in relation to the notion of developed and underdeveloped continents. This paradigm is now outdated, in more ways than one. Some formerly ‘oriental’ nations such as South Korea have since industrialised, post industrialised, digitalised and developed financially. But now, in an ecologically fragile globe, some scholars ask – what’s so developed about development? How can there be two sides to the globe anyway; where does one side begin and the other end? Are there no crossovers of economic systems, ideologies and cultures and don’t we share the same ozone? In a way, this exhibition of contemporary art and design innovations from South Korea, poses these questions and puts it in the hands of the viewers to try and seek some of the answers.
For Madlab’s first exhibition, professors, freelance designers and student artists/designers from Korean universities such as Han-dong Global University, Korea National University of Art, Seoul Women’s University and Yonsei University bring you their creations and their observations from their angle of the globe. Curator, Joowon Lee’s theme for the exhibition is how artists and designers from Korea can be inspired by Korean cultural traditions in terms of medium, style and substance when making pertinent contemporary art works, hence moving forward and facing today’s eco-economical challenges by looking backward. Artists here, such as Seung hea Kim, Joo-hyun Lee, Hyun-kyung Yoo, Joo-Won Chung and Yarean Moon combine digital design in printed format with historical and national thematic content, such as Chinese calligraphy, Buddhist architecture, folk dragons and the Korean alphabet (hangul), creating beautiful fusions of glossy CG precision and indigenous imagination. Fashion design students and lecturers, Sora Kim, Jiyoung Lee, Keumhee Lee and Geejung Lim, show the photos of the finished products of contemporary dress designs whilst drawing inspiration from traditional Korean costume such as the hanbok. The curator, Joowon Lee, describes how, ‘Korea is a very trend-oriented country that world fashion brands take Korea as a trial market to see if their new products would be successful or not because Korea can show the test result most quickly with its fast changing trend-oriented culture.’ Considering South Korea’s fashion and technology trend keeping, Jee Won Choi, Min Heon Kim and industrial design graduates from Yonsei University, address the associated issues of waste and recycling when designing their new products and commercial services. Soon Rye Moon draws from the South Korean government’s interest in Korea’s cultural heritage industry and suggests that architectural designs need to be conservable and meaningful for future generations.
Other artists in the exhibition focus on aspects of Korean nature and landscape. Installation artist – Myungjin Zho’s quick time movie captures the raw, random timelessness of countryside sounds which he contrasts to and expresses visually as desperate clicks and flashes of a camera on the screen. During last night’s bustling preview for the show, Kyo-young Keum, Han-moo Cho and Bora Lee participated in skype conversations from a mac whilst the audience asked questions. Kyo-young Keum uses paint, glitter and jewels to convey ducks on a lotus pond in the dark- ‘An Assiduous Duck’. She is interested in dreamscapes and the vibrancy of night time. Han-moo Cho’s ambiguous photograph – ‘Jeju Sungsanpo-2,’ taken from the Korean island of Jeju, captures the peninsula’s craggy coastline during weather which appears familiar to the British Isles. Three figures stand in the sea scene – a man on land making a phone call, a diver in the sea and a body lying face down in the liminal sludge between the two. It appears that there’s been an accident, someone washed away by the current then found by a diver. Yet, at first you hardly notice because the composition is as such that you feel drawn to the scenery; you glance at it how you would a postcard. More unexpectedly, when you read about Cho, you discover that the three figures are all posed by him, then photoshopped into one vista. Cho asserts complete control over the composition, marking different levels of participation with the chosen environment. Bora Lee’s striking semi-abstract pictorial composition, ‘Mask,’ of various wild animals wearing masks uses red dyed Korean handmade paper, known as jangjee, and natural Korean pigment powder paint carefully applied. Lee is interested in the sociality of human nature and the historical usage of the mask as an object which conceals the human face whilst revealing the desire to hide.
One of the distinctive delights of The Other Side of the Globe is the variety and unexpectedness of the pieces of work, from product design, to fine art to video and sound installation. Turn a corner round one of Madlab’s pillars and you may find an intricate art powder painting on drawing paper of a Korean girl surrounded by Gustav Klimt stylised decor – Hyun-A Lee’s ‘When I wore clothes called a child.’ Near this, Somyung Choi’s video installation depicts a plastic stapler with a life of its own. Personified with eyes and its own volition, the stapler staples everything which comes its way, until it runs out and falls on its side. You think it’s dead but then it is recharged with new staples and off it goes again. Choi wanted the staples to symbolise the goals which motivate us humans, which give us purpose: ‘There is always a new pack of staples, as long as you are willing to embrace it.” This echoes the exhibition’s theme of product design, the issue of renewability but also the universality of human experience and expectation and what we choose to do with our resources and our resourcefulness.