Ifor those who do not acknowledge the Squid Sport safety guards looming over the V&A with their cherry fits and geometric masks– the place have you ever been? This dystopian TV sequence was watched by over 100 million viewers in over 80 nations when it launched final yr. It’s a part of the rise of world popular culture in South Korea that Hallyu! – Korean for “wave” – rejoice
The explanation this blockbuster present on the V&A interprets so nicely is that it presents its personal needs and issues as common: it acknowledges no borders. In a century when many have grown suspicious of globalization, fleeing an economically and technologically unified world in a renewed nationalism, South Korea has gone the opposite manner. There isn’t a Krexit. This society embraces every part and everybody.
This attitude was anticipated by the late Korean-American video artist Nam June Paik: his 1986 set up Mirage Stage is among the present’s early highlights. Its vary of flickering TV screens celebrates a hypnotic, Zen-like embrace of the countless and limitless potentialities of world communication. Right here, that blend consists of every part from Psy’s 2012 mega-hit Gangnam Fashion on a gap video wall, to an area the place you may attempt your hand at Ok-pop dancing, to a spectacular show of performances contemporaries of the standard Korean hanbok gown.
Trend is central to this exhibition’s mild argument, as a result of it really has one underneath its infectious soundtrack. You might be surrounded by garments which are each futuristic and historical, a stunning historic remix. Till the twentieth century, Korea was a pre-industrial society loyal to venerable customs. From 1910 to 1945, this identification survived colonization by the Japanese empire. The Hanbok model, with unfastened skirts for ladies and silk robes for males, expressed this outdated Korea: it was threatened once more when South Korea started to industrialize after the Korean Battle. However now there appear to be countless methods to reinvent hanbok, from a black and white lace go well with worn by Ok-pop star RM to a deconstructed underwear gown designed by Suh Younghee. Floral patterns are taken to ecstatic extremes, from delicate grey petals to large pink flowers to a gown formed like a large peony.
It is also the way in which you see probably the most interesting elements of Ok-pop tradition, its freedom from outdated style imagery. Not solely males’s and girls’s garments merge, so does the creation of feminine and male magnificence. There’s a complete part on cosmetics and sweetness remedies that reveals how Korean stars obtain their seems, from actor Lee Dong-wook modeling Boy de Chanel cosmetics to pioneering the usage of inexperienced tea as a skincare therapy. A statue by Gwon Osang of Ok-pop idol G-Dragon as an angelic matador spearing a fallen demon depicts each G-Dragon and his vanquished foe in refined androgynous magnificence.
This deliriously kitsch paintings additionally factors to what stands out as the most seductive side of South Korean popular culture: its freedom from any sort of cultural purity. It gleefully loots Western artwork. G-Dragon’s heroic pose is modeled after Christian photos of Saint George and Archangel Michael. Why not? They’re as a lot a millstone because the Buddhist custom on this city, digital, post-everything imaginative and prescient.
You’ll be able to enter a curtained sales space, braving the content material warning, to look at a big-screen clip of a road battle from Park Chan-wook’s violent and surreal 2003 movie Oldboy and see the tattered wig worn by its star . Choi Min-sik. Oldboy is an excellent instance of the decide’n’combine globalism of the Korean wave: it’s primarily based on a Japanese manga model of the basic French novel The Rely of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
Gangnam, the present reveals, is a rich neighborhood in Seoul. Its rise from a rural suburb to a excessive glamor neighborhood is chronicled right here. However not everybody lives Gangnam model: you may have a look within the small set of the poor household’s depressing rest room within the Oscar-winning movie Parasite. The universality of Korean tradition consists of the dramatization of the conflicts and injustices it shares with the remainder of the world—which is the dramatic coronary heart of Squid Sport.
But the overwhelming feeling of Ok-pop tradition, this pulsating present demonstrates, is a joyful embrace of the circulate of modernity, an optimism that appears to have dried up elsewhere.