Lotus Land

‘a collective portrait of the people who are producing and consuming visual culture in contemporary Korea’

By Aimee Lin

Minjung Song, DOUBLE DEEP HOT SUGAR – the Romance of Story – ver.2 (still), 2017, video, colour, sound. Courtesy the artist and ACC, Gwangju

Asia Culture Center, Gwangju 28 April – 4 August 

Collecting work by more than 30 artists and artist groups in their twenties and thirties, Lotus Land is the inaugural edition of what is projected to be an annual exhibition showcasing the visual culture of a younger generation of Koreans. At the opening, the space has a party atmosphere – huge emojis continuously run across screens hung from the ceiling, and a DJ is playing electronic dance music so loud that one can hardly hear the videoworks in the show. But there is something for everyone at an event such as this: some contemporary dance; a drag performer vogueing in a costume made by Halominium (a designer whose work is in the show); and, of course, endless DJing.

The exhibition space, effectively a pile of around 25 boxlike rooms, was originally designed to house artist studios. In Lotus Land, each of these houses a single artist’s work; the result is an ‘open studio’ experience. Clearly one of the major curatorial concerns is to decentralise the position of visual art in the institution’s programme and to enrich it with graphic design, fashion, film, dance, crafts, publishing, tattooing and LGBT activism.

This decentralisation also works in a geographical sense, as the show tries to introduce artists who are from or based in all parts of Korea, rather than merely focusing on those from the cosmopolitan Seoul region, the ‘centre’ of the country’s cultural scene. Compared with what one might expect to see at a state-run institution, what you encounter at Lotus Land is vigorous, organic and lively – both in terms of the works and people who produce them. Goeun Choi’s installation Material Pool (2015–16) is a painterly composition of a set of greyish-coloured panels – normally used in air-conditioning systems – in a three-dimensional space, the result demonstrating a purely materialist sensibility. Hannah Woo’s video and mixed-media installation A Grabbing Object (2017) is like a tiny solo exhibition, offering an adventure starring symbolic objects from daily life. Sim Eunjung’s video Red Sculpture (2014) starts a humorous conversation with public ideology when the artist mimics its material medium – public sculpture – with her own body. Minjung Song’s DOUBLE DEEP HOT SUGAR – the Romance of Story (2017) provides a perfect example of what we might call the SNS (social network services) generation’s way of working: video clips quickly shot by cellphone or collected from YouTube, flooded with avatars, tags, stickers, emojis and Internet memes, narrated in a kawaii voiceover and accompanied by an electronic-music soundtrack. First made by the artist as a commercial for Serious Hunger, a progressive brand of hand-made dessert, it is a typical post-Internet moving-image work that says a lot about the SNS generation’s linguistic and visual vocabularies.

Almost all largescale group exhibitions of work by young artists like to catch, investigate or propose new trends. For one thing, tags like ‘post-Internet’ and ‘post-identity’ are quickly consumed and become outdated. On the surface, this show could have been called ‘the art of the SNS generation’ or something similar. However, while SNS might well play an important role in the work of many of the exhibitors here, others – for example those by the independent filmmakers and publishers, the tattooist and the LGBT activists – make it hard for Lotus Land to be categorised under a simple term. In a sense, this chaotic, vigorous show is more like a compilation, offering a collective portrait of the people who are producing and consuming visual culture in contemporary Korea without sacrificing their individual completeness and particularity. 

First published in the Summer 2017 issue of ArtReview Asia