Ohnim is having a blue interval, similar to Picasso. Over Zoom from a gallery in Seoul, the Korean rapper Music Min-ho, higher generally known as Mino to Okay-pop followers however Ohnim within the artwork world, reveals me a portray he completed the earlier night in collaboration with artist Choi Na-ri. It depicts a blue crouched determine, like a depressed model of Rodin’s Thinker. It could be nonetheless moist however will quickly be shipped to London’s Saatchi Gallery for an artwork truthful that showcases work by three of Korea’s greatest Okay-pop stars.
The assembly of Okay-pop and Okay-art is making the artwork world lick its lips. Businessman David Ciclitira, who arrange the StART Artwork Honest on the Saatchi, says: “Okay-pop stars have immense attain via their social media. Guys like Mino, Henry Lau and Kang Seung-yoon, whose work will likely be within the present, have six to seven million followers every on Instagram. In Seoul, followers queue around the block simply to see a murals by any of them. Then they battle one another to purchase. I don’t suppose it’ll be fairly like that on the Saatchi Gallery, however you by no means know.”
Ohnim and Kang Seung-yoon, each members of Okay-pop band Winner, and Canadian-born Henry Lau, former member of Tremendous Junior-M, are successfully multimedia manufacturers, combining singing, appearing, making artwork, vogue, actuality TV … and plugging merchandise. Ohnim, as an example, endorses a German lip balm and did his first artwork present in collaboration with a Korean eyewear model. He additionally modelled for Louis Vuitton.
Stars similar to Ohnim are a part of what’s generally known as hallyu, or the “Korean wave” in tradition, embracing Okay-pop, Okay-cinema (Oscar-winning Parasite), Okay-TV (Netflix’s Squid Sport), Okay-tech (Samsung) and even Okay-philosophy. Subsequent yr, Frieze will launch a Seoul truthful, whereas London’s Victoria and Albert Museum will showcase the favored tradition of South Korea in an exhibition. After which there may be the Okay-art diaspora, with artists similar to Tub Spa College educational Younger In Hong, and Korean-born American conceptual artist Anicka Yi, whose fee at Tate Fashionable’s Turbine Corridor opened this week.
Successive South Korean governments have tried to experience the Korean wave, pursuing a method of exporting popular culture worldwide following the Asian monetary crash within the late Nineties. “Hallyu has been a deliberate software of soppy energy,” argues journalist Christine Ro. “Many international locations spend money on cultural councils and exchanges partly to strengthen diplomatic goals. However the South Korean authorities’s push for cultural energy has had remarkably fast success.”
There’s even a crossover between Okay-pop and Okay-politics. BTS, the boyband whose collaboration with Coldplay is at the moment No 1 within the US, had been made Particular Presidential Envoys for Future Generations and Tradition by South Korea’s president Moon Jae-In final month. They carried out a prerecorded set on the UN, and made a speech praising the youthful era’s resilience in the course of the pandemic and urging sustainable improvement.
As I chat to Ohnim, I discover within the nook of his portray his signature motif of a happy-looking lady. “The image is impressed by the coronavirus pandemic,” he says. “Persons are depressed, and that’s what the blue determine represents. However the background and the little lady say one thing totally different. They are saying: ‘It’s OK. There will likely be happiness.’ I attempt to be influencer, you see.”
It is a surprisingly upbeat message for the 28-year-old, whose public battles along with his psychological well being have endeared him to his South Korean fanbase. Three years in the past, on the peak of his fame with Winner, Ohnim disclosed he had been recognized with panic dysfunction. “Many issues piled on and it occurred,” he mentioned on the time. “I all the time want to indicate look to the general public and all the time shine, however there are loads of issues I must cope with.”
Making artwork has helped him. He informed his Instagram followers: “These days I really feel that language itself can’t perform in its proper kind. I wished to create one other kind of communication, the place the remnants of our emotions which can be buried and hidden away might be conveyed via easy and distorted shapes. The lack to have actual interpersonal relationships and human contact on the earth we at the moment reside in has made me realise that I’m unable to flee emotions of vacancy and hollowness.”
Artwork, he says, is proving higher than three-minute Okay-pop songs at permitting him to discover not simply his personal psychological well being points however to replicate on a world gone hideously fallacious. In 2018, Ohnim collaborated on an eerie immersive set up referred to as Burning Planet. Guests to the area in Seoul’s Seongsu-dong district walked down an extended darkish tunnel to a room the place an previous man defined that he was a gatekeeper to the Burning Planet, a world situated on the fringe of our photo voltaic system.
Visitors then proceeded via a door right into a speakeasy the place a large robotic ostrich defined that on the Burning Planet, all natural life is extinct aside from people and ostriches. After which, curiously, visitors had been invited to eat a dessert constructed from ostrich eggs, earlier than getting into one other area depicting human life on this planet. Feeble mild installations symbolised scarce photo voltaic power, whereas performers carried out a boring ballet of repetitive actions. Just like the Planet of the Apes, the Burning Planet was actually an allegory of our personal. “So many people are burned out in a world that we’re destroying,” he defined.
As Onim sips his drink, from 5,500 miles away, I research the tattoos that ring his throat. They’re little circles of climate icons – cloudy, sunny and so forth. “I color one in crimson to indicate what temper I’m in.” However none are ringed right now? He shrugs, probably as a result of he doesn’t know which temper he’s in.
Onim’s artwork expresses one thing the thinker Byung-Chul Han takes as symptomatic of latest South Korea. In his new guide, Capitalism and the Dying Drive, Han notes that his homeland has the very best suicide fee on the earth. Partially, he argues, that is due to the IMF bailout that adopted the Asian monetary disaster. Like Greece, South Korea was, he claims, forcibly subjected to “radical reprogramming” – what Naomi Klein referred to as the “shock doctrine”.
“In South Korea, there isn’t a longer any actual resistance to those measures,” Han writes. “As a substitute, one finds excessive ranges of conformism and consensus – along with despair and burnout. As a substitute of searching for to alter society, individuals use violence towards themselves. The outward aggression that may have offered the idea for revolution has as an alternative given method to auto-aggression.”
Proof for this prognosis was clear in final yr’s Korean Eye present on the Saatchi Gallery. One piece consisted of an A4 sheet of paper connected to a wall at its decrease corners, one facet bearing the picture of a face drawn with a marker. Artist Kwantaeck Park organized a fan to make the sheet stand up and down as if the face was bowing endlessly. Eunha Kim made a sculpture referred to as Bon Appetit that seemed like a hamburger however was constructed from discarded garments. Lee Seung Koo put in a sculpture referred to as Compromise Between Me and Me that seemed like a dystopian Jeff Koons inflatable, with an enormous gun firing gas-filled balloons formed like hearts and outsized blood corpuscles throughout the gallery.
The present’s curator, Dimitri Ozerkov, of St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, wrote in his catalogue essay that Han was proper in his prognosis: auto-aggression bleeds into up to date Korean tradition and burnout; persona issues and a focus deficit hyperactivity are behind the nation’s artistic fecundity. “This new societal situation could also be characterised by way of narcissism taken to the purpose of non secular fervour.”
Okay-art, then, is in a vexed place, each presenting Korea to the world, and on the identical appearing as a grenade that, as Ozekov places it, “may blow the well-managed collective id sky-high.”
Korean artwork was terra incognita for westerners (the late Nam June Paik however) till David Ciclitira, the chairman of Parallel Media and co-founder of Sky TV, started amassing along with his spouse Serenella round 15 years in the past. Impressed with what they noticed in Seoul’s galleries, they arrange a programme referred to as International Eye aimed toward creating the county’s arts infrastructure, and organized reveals to advertise the humanities of Asian international locations from Vietnam to Indonesia.
In 2012, Ciclitira arrange Reside Firm, an occasions enterprise that toured Okay-pop concert events to Asia and, finally, Europe. Since then, his enterprise pursuits have mixed Okay-pop and Okay-art. On the wall behind him as we discuss is essentially the most hanging Zoom backdrop I’ve encountered in the course of the pandemic, particularly a 3.2m x 2m embroidery referred to as Procession by Younger In Hong. “It was the primary giant embroidery piece I did,” she tells me from her Bristol studio.
She made Procession in 2010, a decade earlier than her adoptive metropolis bore witness to the toppling of slave dealer Edward Colston’s statue. However Procession is a piece no much less political. From the English west nation, Younger In Hong retains a Korean eye on her homeland, meditating on its historical past and struggles. Guests to London’s Royal Academy might bear in mind, in 2017, a bunch of Koreans mendacity within the courtyard. This was Younger In Hong’s efficiency piece 5100: Pentagon, memorialising college students who had been fired on, killed, raped and crushed by authorities troops in 1980’s Gwangju protests towards martial legislation.
“The efficiency commemorates a selected occasion however can also be a method of appearing out a sure resistance towards prevailing social norms,” she says. “I’m fairly a delicate particular person to what’s occurring round me. In all probability that’s one of many causes I got here right here, to get a way of perspective on my homeland.”
Younger In Hong’s newest venture is a 15-metre lengthy textual content piece put in final month on the disused Jejin station within the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea. “I picked this sentence from a guide through which a girl is explaining to a lawyer why she needs to break up. It reads: “Our rhythms have been out of sync previously.” Younger In Hong repurposes the textual content to touch upon different issues out of sync: North and South Korea, practice timetables, women and men, people and their psychological well being. Emblazoned in big kind over the entrance to the disused station, it’s hardly an instance of soppy energy or a profitable funding alternative for collectors, however it’s definitely a part of the Okay-art wave breaking each at house and overseas.