‘Me Culture / We Society’


The 2021 edition of the international contemporary art symposium, ‘2021 Korea Research Fellow: 10×10’, runs 6–15 October

The international contemporary art symposium, ‘2021 Korea Research Fellow: 10×10’, runs 6–15 October this year. For this fourth edition, titled Me Culture / We Society, 13 media artists and 15 curators from around the world have been invited to reflect and exchange on possible paths for global solidarity as we emerge from the pandemic. The initiative is hosted by the Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS), and part of their K-Fellowship, a project to encourage exchange in contemporary art. The event is organised by Daehyung Lee, former artistic director of the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In his essay ‘Me Culture / We Society’, Lee reflects on the role art can play in outlining ‘a potential road to an inclusive future’, connecting people across political, social and cultural borders. Can we emerge from this pandemic with a ‘sustainable, multilateral knowledge community for the whole of humanity’? Find out more here.

‘Me Culture / We Society’, by Daehyung Lee, art director of the Korea Research Fellow 10×10

Reflecting upon the devastating conflicts of the First and Second World Wars, which were triggered by imperialism and ideological confrontation, the present century has anticipated an end to conflict and a potential road to an inclusive future. Political, social and cultural discourses envisioning a transformation from histories of conquest to futures of coexistence are ongoing in various fields. And yet, despite the common aspirations of mankind, the reality is that we are facing new levels of conflict and confrontation. It appears that in today’s society, the togetherness that broke down such confrontations as the Berlin Wall is not functioning as efficiently against the contemporary invisible walls of discrimination and hatred. 

Global hegemony has made way for national priority, which has been igniting conflicts between regions as well as generations. Naturally, digital technology has had a major role in the breaking down of these traditional borders, but it is at the same time preventing the understanding of diverse realities. In the current hyper-connected society, there exists a global solidarity in the virtual space, but this also has the potential to spawn groups who express violence. Inclusive solidarity should not be an oxymoron. The need for a new level of global connection has reemerged thanks to the experience of the pandemic over the last two years. Just as a virus threatens humanity indiscriminately, the fight to overcome it can help people join forces across national divides, through a shared common enemy. A new identity as “We, Society” is needed – transcending borders, gender, age, ideology and religion. 

In 2021, the Korea Research Fellow pays attention to the diverse worldviews presented by curators and artists from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Korea under the theme of Me Culture / We Society. These six countries are not grouped together by any political, economic, cultural, ethnic, religious or community classification. Instead, the countries are to be seen as spaces in which different political, economic and cultural contexts intersect based on the regional commonality of Asia. As a result, the diversity of the cultural spectrum is much wider than the commonalities between the countries.

This forum, leaving behind the pre-modern legacy of male-centered authority and submission as well as pre-conceived notions of collectivism and exclusionism as ‘Asian values’, is to envision a solidarity of tolerance and inclusion that can connect diverse values with genuine individualism that is not subjugated in any form. We hope for a new dimension of ‘Asian values’ where solidarity and individualism coexist.

At present, the world is witnessing signs of a new Cold War that began with the US-China trade conflict, and has been compounded by Asian hate crimes caused by the pandemic, which are emerging as a new social problem. In addition to this, the quarantine policies that have been introduced to protect each nation’s citizens from the threat of the virus have laid bare the tug of war between individual freedom and the public interest inherent within modern society. Due to the continuous online access time, people also fall into the trap of a filter bubble, and consequently, we are facing a political, social and cultural environment where different values are difficult to reconcile.

In order to overcome the current crises of mankind, from the pandemic to the environmental problem, collaboration across borders is an urgent issue. However, for several reasons mentioned above, inclusive global solidarity is not an easy task. A sustainable, multilateral knowledge community for the whole of humanity (not just a specific individual or a specific country), should work beyond the reciprocity and the game of power struggle between countries. And within that, we need to redefine the social role of art and think about whether we can respect each other’s diversity as it is. Only then will a more sustainable and universal knowledge community and global solidarity be possible.

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