Art Corner: Review – The Shade of Prosperity

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The Shade of Prosperity was a collective film exhibition of Korean and Japanese artists examining the impact of economic development on East Asian countries organised by independent curator Anna Miyoung Kim on the 5th of December.  The exhibition of films focused on the inequality and discrimination felt by those in the lower social classes.

Anna had been researching the impact of economic development on East Asian countries since 2008 and the idea developed into the exhibition.

The exhibition asked the following questions:  For whom was the rapid economic development planned and executed for, how can the sacrifices of minorities be justified for the good of majorities and can economic development or society’s common goal harmoniously accompany individuals’ human rights?

The modernization of Korea had been initiated since 1962 with the 5-Year Economic Development Plan (The 5-Year EDP) by the authoritarian government with full control over economic and social system. The 5-Year EDP had achieved rapid economic growth and accumulated the country’s wealth at the expense of the underclass.

The artists involved were Youngin Hong, Ayoung Kim, Sejin Kim, Hyewon Kwon and Saki Satom.

My favourite films were Eight Men lived in a Room by Hyewon Kwon, Please Return to Busan Port by Ayoung Kim, Sleeping Sun by Se Jin Kim and Night Workers by Sejin Kim.

Eight Men Lived in the Room series: News, 2010

Eight Men Lived in the Room series: News, 2010

Eight Men Lived in A Room explored the result of the governments need to gain rapid development in the 1960’s by gaining cheap labor with people migrating from the countryside to the cities. The news reel footage focuses on the building of boarding accommodation for these workers in Seoul, the centre of the modernization efforts.  The building was demolished in the 1990’s and left no trace. Artist Hyewon Kim struggled to find this information having to comb through public reports, newspaper reports etc finally discovering a 45 second news clip.  The piece itself was highly interesting with the use of the repeating newsreel. At the beginning the news was optimistic and heralded a brand new start. However as the years progressed the news became more and more filled with melancholy.  Watching, my mood and perception of what I was seeing shifted. I began attaching the negative reports with the images and felt a sense of sadness at how things had developed. The end brought us right back to the current state of the building with former residents recapping their time there. The dilapidation and the clever use of light creating shadows created a haunting effect.

Please Return to Busan Port, 2012

Please Return to Busan Port, 2012

Please Return to Busan, centered on the Olympic Games in Seoul juxtaposed with the life of a drug smuggler in the 1980’s to an old K-pop song of the same name. Busan, Korea’s largest harbour city was the perfect destination for drug smuggling with people flowing in and out. The artist showed us the various techniques used by the smuggler matched with him endlessly riding his bike along with reversed images of the Olympics and these meshed well together. It seemed as if the smuggler was trying to catch up and he was being given a chance to. Of course this begs the question of just how progressive things were if drug smuggling was an easy process.

Sleeping Sun, 2012

Sleeping Sun, 2012

Sleeping Sun showed a stranger wondering the streets through London streets, the artist intended on showing the dream or delusion of developing countries. The artist’s technique was to apply a device which converts the location to the time on her film with an idea, ‘the present of developed countries is the future of developing countries’. A stranger from a developing country travels developed country, as if she is a time traveller came from the past. It is a reminder of the desire for modernisation, but delusion with absence of important values. The piece felt isolated and otherworldly.  The soundtrack also created a sinister sense of isolation in my mind, the lone figure roaming London seemed to be like an alien exploring a new planet for the first time.  I was also very amazed at how they had managed to achieve complete stillness in London. London is hustling and bustling and to see it quiet and empty was very unnerving. How they did it, I really want to know!

Night Wokers, 2009

Night Wokers, 2009

My final favourite was Night Workers which followed two night workers, a security guard and a tollgate operator. These ordinary workers go largely unnoticed in a large and busy city. For me, there was a focus on the stillness of the night and the workers trying to make a living and get by. Both male and female protagonists were different but in the short film they did the same things, practised the same routines. There was juxtaposition with the quietness of their night work and the sped up scenes of the hustle and bustle of the city. Whilst the city moved on they were stuck in their still positions. A possible comment on the nature of these workers who are stuck in their roles; relegated by society as just redundant and unimportant people.  I liked the endless climb of the stairs that they undertook; it seemed to be a metaphor on the endless climb that they have to make in order to reach the top. This could also be seen as a comment on the nature of the society and the fact that they haven’t fared well in the competitive society means that they must take many steps in order to gain freedom. This freedom could be seen with the emergence at the top of the buildings they occupied and the piercing sunlight.  A ray of hope, unlike the darkness they previously inhabited down below.

From B to H, 2002

From B to H, 2002

I felt annoyed somewhat by the film From B to H by Saki Satom. It looked at the nature of Japan’s economic rise and the impact it has had on the nature of the individual. Fundamentally it was about being part of a group and having a sense of security from the group. One must conform and uniformity was key. However this is subverted by a smartly dressed woman who enters a lift and starts dancing to music. This nameless figure challenges your initial image and perception. She stops dancing however when she reached her floor or encounters others; she then becomes part of the group.  By dancing she is gaining a small amount of freedom but this is short lived when she returns to reality (her office floor).  The first few episodes of her dancing were interesting but I did find it slightly monotonous.  The constant in and out routine made me become impatient and itching for change. Although she was ‘free’ by dancing it was pretty much the same routine. Could this be seen as a comment on the stifling nature of routine and monotony? Of course, the unchanged routine left me willing for her to get caught by the workers in the building (she came close).

Miners’ Orange, 2009

Miners’ Orange, 2009

I found Miners Orange to be interesting, focusing on a parade of people through the regions of Gohan and Sabuk. The parade was initiated in response to local peoples’ struggles with new regional development brought in. The area saw economic boom during the Seoul Olympics when coal mining was thriving however through the Environmental Law the boom diminished. The local people sought fortune from casino and gambling but this brought negative side effects of prostitution and crime.  I found it an interesting watch and the traditional instruments added a nice soundtrack. As an outsider I couldn’t connect to the ‘protest parade’ and it left me feeling slightly isolated away from their cause.  The use of the bright orange colour was wonderful and it really worked well against the landscape of the regions.

We were treated at the end to a performance by London based artist Yoonsuk Choi. His performance saw him drawing on a plain white shirt he was wearing to a military exercise soundtrack. It reminded me of the kind of exercise undertaken in schools. His pen strokes matched with the soundtrack and I found it to be an interesting match up between the regimented soundtrack and his free drawing.

All in all it was a wonderful evening with pieces that were thought provoking and interesting.

To find out more about Anna’s projects and work check out www.annaartproject.co.uk

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