Ok-boom! How the unstoppable stars of Ok-pop went gunning for the artwork world – The Guardian

Ok-boom! How the unstoppable stars of Ok-pop went gunning for the artwork world – The Guardian


First got here Ok-cinema, then Ok-pop and Ok-TV. Now South Korea’s younger stars are conquering the world with Ok-art. However what do their darkish visions say about their nation’s psyche – and ours?

Wed 13 Oct 2021 06.00 BST

Ohnim is having a blue interval, similar to Picasso. Over Zoom from a gallery in Seoul, the Korean rapper Tune Min-ho, higher often known as Mino to Ok-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 Ok-pop stars.

The assembly of K-pop and Ok-art is making the artwork world lick its lips. Businessman David Ciclitira, who arrange the StART Artwork Truthful on the Saatchi, says: “Ok-pop stars have immense attain by means of their social media. Guys like Mino, Henry Lau and Kang Seung-yoon, whose work can 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 struggle 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 Ok-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, for example, endorses a German lip balm and did his first artwork present in collaboration with a Korean eyewear model. He also modelled for Louis Vuitton.

Stars corresponding to Ohnim are a part of what’s often known as hallyu, or the “Korean wave” in tradition, embracing Ok-pop, Ok-cinema (Oscar-winning Parasite), Ok-TV (Netflix’s Squid Game), Ok-tech (Samsung) and even Ok-philosophy. Subsequent 12 months, 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’s the Ok-art diaspora, with artists corresponding to Tub Spa College tutorial Younger In Hong, and Korean-born American conceptual artist Anicka Yi, whose fee at Tate Fashionable’s Turbine Corridor opened this week.

‘Individuals are depressed, that’s what the blue determine represents’ … No Means Out However by Ohnim (Mino) and Choi Nari. Photograph: © StART Artwork World/ Ohnim and Choi Nari

Successive South Korean governments have tried to trip the Korean wave, pursuing a method of exporting popular culture worldwide following the Asian monetary crash within the late 1990s. “Hallyu has been a deliberate device of sentimental energy,” argues journalist Christine Ro. “Many nations 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 may be even a crossover between Ok-pop and Ok-politics. BTS, the boyband whose collaboration with Coldplay is presently 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 technology’s resilience throughout 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. “Individuals 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 can be happiness.’ I attempt to be an excellent influencer, you see.”

It is a surprisingly upbeat message for the 28-year-old, whose public battles together with his psychological well being have endeared him to his South Korean fanbase. Three years in the past, on the top of his fame with Winner, Ohnim disclosed he had been identified with panic dysfunction. “Many issues piled on and it occurred,” he mentioned on the time. “I at all times want to indicate an excellent look to the general public and at all times shine, however there are a whole lot of issues I must cope with.”

Making artwork has helped him. He told his Instagram followers: “These days I really feel that language itself can not operate in its proper kind. I needed to create one other kind of communication, the place the remnants of our emotions which might be buried and hidden away may be conveyed by means of easy and distorted shapes. The shortcoming to have actual interpersonal relationships and human contact on the earth we presently dwell 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 Ok-pop songs at permitting him to discover not simply his personal psychological well being points however to mirror on a world gone hideously unsuitable. In 2018, Ohnim collaborated on an eerie immersive set up known 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.

‘So many people are burned out in a world we’re destroying’ … Ohnim, AKA Mino. Photograph: Daewoung Kim/Reuters

Friends then proceeded by means of a door right into a speakeasy the place an enormous robotic ostrich defined that on the Burning Planet, all natural life is extinct aside from people and ostriches. After which, curiously, friends had been invited to eat a dessert constituted of ostrich eggs, earlier than coming into one other area depicting human life on this planet. Feeble gentle 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 examine the tattoos that ring his throat. They’re little circles of climate icons – cloudy, sunny and so forth. “I color one in purple to indicate what temper I’m in.” However none are ringed right this moment? 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 Death Drive, Han notes that his homeland has the very best suicide price 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 known as the “shock doctrine”.

“In South Korea, there is no such thing as 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 looking for to vary society, folks use violence in opposition to themselves. The outward aggression which may have supplied the premise for revolution has as an alternative given option to auto-aggression.”

Proof for this prognosis was clear in final 12 months’s Korean Eye present on the Saatchi Gallery. One piece consisted of an A4 sheet of paper hooked up 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 known as Bon Appetit that regarded like a hamburger however was constituted of discarded garments. Lee Seung Koo put in a sculpture known as Compromise Between Me and Me that regarded like a dystopian Jeff Koons inflatable, with an enormous gun firing gas-filled balloons formed like hearts and outsized blood corpuscles throughout the gallery.

Mushy energy … boyband BTS on the ceremony in Seoul the place President Moon appointed them particular envoys for future generations and tradition. Photograph: YONHAP/EPA

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; character 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.”

Ok-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, “might blow the well-managed collective identification 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 accumulating together with his spouse Serenella round 15 years in the past. Impressed with what they noticed in Seoul’s galleries, they arrange a programme known as World Eye aimed toward creating the county’s arts infrastructure, and organized reveals to advertise the humanities of Asian nations from Vietnam to Indonesia.

In 2012, Ciclitira arrange Reside Firm, an occasions enterprise that toured Ok-pop live shows to Asia and, finally, Europe. Since then, his enterprise pursuits have mixed Ok-pop and Ok-art. On the wall behind him as we speak is probably the most hanging Zoom backdrop I’ve encountered throughout the pandemic, specifically a three.2m x 2m embroidery known as Procession by Young In Hong. “It was the primary massive 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 could keep in mind, in 2017, a gaggle of Koreans mendacity within the courtyard. This was Young In Hong’s performance piece 5100: Pentagon, memorialising college students who had been fired on, killed, raped and overwhelmed by authorities troops in 1980’s Gwangju protests against martial law.

“The efficiency commemorates a particular occasion however can be a way of appearing out a sure resistance towards prevailing social norms,” she says. “I’m fairly a delicate individual to what’s happening round me. Most likely 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 mission 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 lady is explaining to a lawyer why she needs to break up. It reads: “Our rhythms have been out of sync prior to now.” 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 large kind over the entrance to the disused station, it’s hardly an instance of sentimental energy or a profitable funding alternative for collectors, however it’s definitely a part of the Ok-art wave breaking each at dwelling and overseas.





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