Tag Archives: South Korea


13 Nov

Ehhhhhh… nasty landlord.

(* Link for those too young and/or too not from London to get this reference.)

South Korean pop star PSY, of Gangnam Style infamy, is not only trying to force an artist-led organisation out of a building he owns in the gentrifying Hannamdong neighbourhood of Seoul (so he can renovate it, presumably for higher rents) but has also launched defamation lawsuits against four of the artists for publicising his actions and criticising him. Don’t like going viral quite so much when it doesn’t flatter you, Mr Park?

Of course this is just one of many instances of the same crap that is happening in London and in other major cities in the developed world; as the rich get richer and the poor get punished, artists, the low paid and even reasonably well-salaried key workers like nurses and teachers are being exiled from the cities where they’re particularly needed and supposedly wanted while urban cores become little more than desolate stacks of steel and glass investment boxes for the Haves.

All this came to my attention via a story at Hyperallergic about an unspeakably ghastly KRW 418 million (£236,800 or $361,000) Gangnam Style sculpture planned for the eponymous district of Seoul. Somebody should tell these property developers that viral YouTube hits are often really hard to explain even at the time, let alone in a few years when everyone will be saying “Si who? Horse riding hands? What?”

Talking of PSY and WTF-ness, it is perhaps telling that Amnesty International appear to have deleted the page on their site that formerly pertained to the Gangnam for Freedom video made in 2012 by Anish Kapoor and Friends [sic… obviously he doesn’t have any friends]. You can watch it if you like. I can’t watch it again. I just can’t. It’s so embarrassing it makes my whole face invert and my testicles retract all the way up into my lungs. The Chinese government was obviously rocked by Kapoor and overpaid staff members from irrelevant 1% bauble galleries like the Serpentine and MoMA dancing like toddlers to a novelty record about chatting up an attractive woman* and that’s why they immediately let Ai Wei Wei and other people who are actually serious dissidents out of… oh, wait. No they didn’t. THEY DIDN’T GIVE A SHIT AND JUST KEPT ON OPPRESSING ARTISTS, JOURNALISTS, ACTIVISTS AND AUTHORS WITH COMPLETE IMPUNITY.

And now the video is overlaid with the irony that PSY accuses artists who criticise him of libel and takes them to court.

(I know, by the way, that Kapoor and Friends were responding to a video by Ai Wei Wei which also (mis)used Gangnam Style… his video was also lame, embarrassing and demonstrated a high schooler’s level of political and artistic sophistication.)

UPDATE, December 2015:

Über-LOL at the video– which had been there since 2012, mostly unseen and always unloved– mysteriously disappearing within a few weeks of me blogging about it. I think people still don’t believe me when I say that the art world top table grownups read this blog, but they are totally hate-reading it all the time. Although ultimately I think it’s better if nobody else ever has to watch the video because it’s so sphincter-puckeringly ghastly, I also can’t help feeling it’s a shame the video is gone now. Thanks for reading, though, Big A! Keep on dancing like you forgot what arms are, you dotty old thing.

(More GIFs from the video here.)


(* English translation of the Gangnam Style lyrics. Why bother using an instrumental version– which exists, because I checked– to avoid conflicting messages, when lyrics like these go so perfectly with a protest about freedom of speech? The answer is that Anish Kapoor and Friends are intellectual pygmies and hacks, probably.

Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Now lets go until the end

Uncle is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Uncle is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Uncle is Gangnam style

Eh- Sexy Lady, Uncle is Gangnam style
Eh- Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh

A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays
A girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes
A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all
A sensible girl like that

I’m a guy
A guy who seems calm but plays when he plays
A guy who goes completely crazy when the right time comes
A guy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles
That kind of guy.)


27 May


On Monday of this week I was thinking– with some satisfaction and serenity– that for some time I’d seen nothing but reasonable, factual press releases in plain English and artist statements that actually made sense. Perhaps the day would soon come when I would no longer have any material for Artbollocks Theatre? No. Come Wednesday morning, I see this:

There is no mediation that is lossless—an output is never the pure transmission of a source—but always as much the distance it has travelled, the things it has come in contact with or bounced with or off. She is interested in the consistency of distances that can be traced through an arbitrary sense of material precision: utilising water, viscosity, synthetic carpets, electricity, surface tension, stray socks and chewing gum. This consistency, at times imperceptible and at times palpable, is what the artist describes as “something that I find in my sculptural vocabulary—an extra-linguistic or non-verbal modulation of content—articulating the impurities of a medium or assemblage.” […]

Literally caught in between melting and being repurposed, several hundred meters of gutted sheaths are compressed into dense lumps of immaterial distance. Contextualized by both recent and earlier works, the exhibition will consider sculpture as a medium of storage, transmission and reception.

A translation of the last paragraph is that she’s melted a load of old plastic cables into lumps. This is not me editorialising, by the way. Here is a publicity image of the “art work” associated with the verbiage quoted above:


Have you tried unplugging it, leaving it for a few seconds, then plugging it back in?

Yes, it’s made of communication cables, but that doesn’t make it a consideration of “sculpture as a medium of storage, transmission and reception” any more than making an art work out of cake is considering birthdays, aging and parenthood. It can be that, but there’s a pathetic schoolgirl literalism in claiming an art work is about something just because it’s made from things associated with the subject. Even if it is a consideration of anything, perhaps as an artist you could actually have some courage and commit to saying something about the subject and instead of just limply, meekly considering it? It’s toxic, weird and also entirely fitting that so many contemporary artists claim to be considering things because considering things without coming any nearer to an answer is not at all profound and the majority of contemporary artists are neither capable of nor truly interested in profundity. They just like the idea of being thought of as profound, which is very different from being so and much harder. I consider what I’m having for lunch or whether it’s worth waiting for the next train after I just missed one, or if I should get the bus instead. Note that even in these extremely banal examples I actually come to a conclusion. Consideration without conclusion is noodling or daydreaming, at best.

And several hours previously– arriving unwelcome in the middle of the night like a drunk or a stalker– this double-decker of nonsense about two simultaneous solo exhibitions by another two artists:

Her work is located in the meeting of sculpture, video installation and performance and is characterized by an acute study of the relationship of the body to space, closely linked with her utilization of digital technologies (often including, for example: projectors, scanners, action cameras, and drones). The videos, which play a central role in her work, consist of filmed actions (mostly featuring Vogel herself), documentations of her own installations and collages from her archive of images. These videos then become part of her sculptural constructions where dimensional space, decor and the corporeal merge into an organically woven structure. She treats the projectors and the other technical equipment as active protagonists: for example, by removing their casings or by suspending them in unexpected ways, thus revealing their fragility and somatic character. Ultimately, she creates a hybrid form in which her relationship to space, object, technology and machine is displayed in a dynamic field of motion, from the process of its development to the self-reflective treatment of her own work.

In English: She films herself because herself is the most interesting subject she can think of, and she takes the cases off the projectors. In the interest of relative brevity I’ll just note in passing that this monolithic paragraph is riddled with bad writing and unexamined assumptions: Why and how is her study acute? Space is always dimensional. An active protagonist has to be active and a protagonist, and a protagonist is by definition active anyway; simply doing something unusual with a piece of equipment does not necessarily make it either active or a protagonist. And so on.

This body-studying (YAAAAAAWN) artist shares the gallery with an artist who is, yep, another one adopting the tiresome pretence that he is “undertaking an investigation”:

Of particular interest in Binet’s work is his perception of the painting as an “integrative object.” This process of integration—the inclusion into a larger whole—occurs during the work’s installation; Binet actively considers the walls and conditions of the surrounding exhibition space, initiating a working process based on its specifics. Everything taking place within the space shapes the exhibition. A canvas can bend and be embedded in a stair railing. A continuous line spray-painted over the surface of a wall and onto a canvas extends a painting into space. With this direct and equal treatment of both painting and place, the work becomes inseparable from its surroundings, existing only in this very moment and in its specific spatial arrangement.

English translation: He goes over the edges of his paintings, some of which are not rectangular. Oh, didn’t you know that paintings don’t have to be rectangular? Ha ha Stupid U, artist moar intelligectual than U.

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit making Artbollocks Theatre.



14 Mar

ArtBTheatreTitleMore dramatic readings of the worst artist statements, gallery press releases and art criticism every week, except when I don’t do them every week.

Do you like soil? Are you interested in the self? Not soiling yourself. That’s a different thing. No, this is how one of the artists describes his oeuvre as represented in an exhibition of South Korean artists at Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami. For the purposes of this week’s reading I’ve mashed up several of the artists’ statements into one incoherent whole. In as much as one can generalise, I’ve rarely come away disappointed from exhibitions by South Korean artists. Whatever the Korean equivalent of je ne sais quoi is, I think many of them have it. Google unhelpfully translates je ne sais quoi as eotteon 어떤, “any”. Yes, Korean artists have any. Thanks Google, you arsehole.

Where was I? I think Korean artists are generally quite interesting, and even if they weren’t I’d usually give them some slack for writing in a foreign language because I sure as hell couldn’t write one in Korean. However, since this gallery is in Florida that consideration is not relevant because the gallery is responsible for making sure their publicity material, catalogues and interpretation texts don’t inadvertently make foreign artists sound like imbeciles.

Talking of imbecility, one thing that probably can’t be put down to translation issues is yet again an artist expressing open disdain for thinking and a concomitant lauding of just doing whatever. Artists used to be renowned for their intelligence and deep thought, didn’t they? When (and why) did it become OK for artists to sneer at thinking? This anti-intellectualism is particularly weird and dissonant when it so often sits right alongside the current fashion for artists to cloak themselves in language that apes social science, physics, psychology and so forth.

Let’s play Artbollocks Bingo!

Ree Soo-Jong says of his pots, in his own words: ‘My work happens through manual kneading of soil, showing its natural, raw aspects and calling for viewers’ instant reflections on the work. Through the unification of soil and self, I intend to reach a primitive essence. The refreshing fascination with nature through soil provides an infinite sense of lifeforce, and also a positive significance to my own life. My work begins with the touching of soil. I think of myself as a very sensitive person who spends more time working rather than thinking; thus, I don’t really care so much about the outcome of my works. Whatever it comes out to be, whether a jar or a human form, the important thing is not the result but rather the breath-like act of rubbing soil and my devotion toward it. It is undeniable that giving real significance to the act of creating itself provides the most delight and meaning for me.’

One of the phrases that should never under any circumstances appear in an artist’s statement or press release is “I don’t really care.” The whole second half of this paragraph raises the question of why we should care or pay any attention to an artist who admits to not caring what we think, and not being bothered at all whether he produces anything provided he can be left alone with his dirt and the touching and the sensitivity.

He actively shows work and is collected in Korea and worldwide, including [blah blah blah].

Woo! He actively shows work! Unlike all those boring artists who passively show work by leaving it face down on the floor in a cellar behind a locked door in the hope that someday a random human will stumble upon it by accident. Incidentally, his work is collected. He isn’t collected. Continue reading


19 Sep

For a change, the little précis about the Japanese pavilion nails it: “… Japanese media art, which has been refined as part of a phenomenon known as the Galapagos Syndrome in which Japan, isolated from world standards, has evolved in wholly peculiar manner.”

This is perhaps also a typically Japanese understatement with a slight hint of apology. The Japanese art scene and what they consider proper art are (to my mind, anyway) thrillingly open-minded and unconcerned about the overly serious and self-important stuff that holds sway elsewhere. Sometimes this means that the sense of accessible, jolly inclusiveness disguises content that’s not as interesting as the aesthetic: but that’s exactly my point. Japanese art- and to some extent all east Asian art outside of the mainland Chinese art industry’s brutalising, acquisitive influence- is about ideas and feelings but doesn’t always see the need to go automatically for the very biggest ideas and feelings.  Small ideas and feelings can be beautiful. Sometimes it’s fine for art to just be pretty or clever or fun, whereas Western artists seem to have it drilled into them that all three of these things are strictly verboten and that they always have to pretend they’re the most intelligent person in the room: most especially if they really aren’t very bright at all.

Japan’s mirrored animation installation plays games with optics, space and one’s sense of distance in a similar way to James Turrell’s installation over at the Arsenale, but since it’s Japanese it does so by giving the impression of having your head stuck in a pinball machine instead of Turrell’s puritan minimalism- which I also like in a different way. I got no sense that Tabaimo’s ideas or the experience was anywhere as deep or wide as Turrell’s, or that the content was anywhere near as interesting as the technically accomplished production and set design. I’ve mentioned this kind of failure a few times already, but I’m more forgiving of style over substance victories when people don’t come along afterwards and try to lay down an intellectual smokescreen to cover up the resulting void of intellectual merit.

Nearby, the work in Korea’s pavilion looks like the work of three different artists: enormous fibreglass mannequins and the moulds they were cast from obviously having relationship issues; heavily armed, florally-camouflaged soldiers creep through an equally flowery environment in photos and video works; mirrors shatter themselves when looked into by visitors. Actually it’s all the work of one artist, Lee Yongbaek, and I really liked it all. In my experience, Korean galleries and artists rarely disappoint. Lee obviously skips around and follows his ideas all over the intellectual, artistic and genre landscape (as I try to do and love doing, and often cause bewilderment to art world people by doing), so there’s obviously a personal connection here too. A nice discovery.

Navin Rawanchaikul’s Thai pavilion is a kitsch spew of quasi-communist and cult of personality parody and ridiculous camp, but enjoyable rather than irritating. I don’t know whether it’s strange or entirely fitting that half of the Thai pavilion is actually a cocktail bar.

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