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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jiyeon Lim: New Media Art in Korea

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Some young Korean artists who studied western art in Japan during Japanese imperialism started modern art in South Korea. These artists, such as Hwan-ki Kim, Young-guk Kim, imitated the way Japanese artist rendered the western form of modern art. After World War II, the Modern art from the west was flooded directly into South Korea. There have been lots of artist groups that actively experimented the western way of artistic practice and put various efforts to digest it in Korean way. When ordinary Korean people were able to travel abroad from1980s, art students went to Europe and the United States to learn western contemporary art. They brought lots of new ways of art making to Korean art scene and made art more accessible.

Korean born artist Namjune Baik, firstly introduced the new media art in Korea. Baik’s first show was held in Korea for the first time in1984. His appearance in Korean art scene brought a sensation. It was not only to witness Baik’s world famous works in person but also to see the first prominent Korean born artist, though not Korea based, that opened up the whole new way to produce art in the world. Baik’s prominence in contemporary art world motivated Korean artists to work with new media, mostly video.

In 1990s, after the shock that Baik gave to Korea, Korean Artists became aware of technology as art making medium and had vigorous experiments with it. Some artists were introduced to the world. Keon-byoung Yook, who is treated as first Korean based new media artist, got attention with his video installation at Documenta 1992, in Kassel, Germany. Baik’s student, Su-cheon Jeon, won special prize when Korean section was primarily built in Venice biennale 1995. In 1998, the first official digital art group COFA (Computer fine Art Association) was founded. They held the first show “ Korean painting 600 years - digitalized work” with Korean Broadcasting System at Seoul Art Center in March 1999. The first International Digtal Art Festival (IDAF) was held in 1999 to 2000 at Gana Web Gallery. It was initial challenge to unite Internet and Art in Korea.

Entering new century, new media art in Korea was still taking baby steps. Some artists have endeavored to apply new technology for art making but mostly video has been dominant material among artists due to its accessibility and limited awareness of the other materials. Their theme often contained the attempt to blend traditional eastern philosophy and western technology i.e. or to merely show the visual sensation. Media artist’s works usually did not catch attention from the public so they have barely presented their work through “alternative spaces” which was the first generation non- profit art space for emerging artist such as Alternative Space Loop, Project Space Sarubia, Ssamzie Space, Insa Art Space.

However, artists never stopped on experimenting. Young Korean media artists are being accepted more frequently in the world art scene and the theme and means are becoming more various. For instance, the artist Yeon-Du Jung, who was selected as the artist of the year from Korean contemporary Art Museum, exhibited his video work ‘documentary nostalgia’ at MOMA and his video was collected by MOMA after good audience response. It was first time to add a work of Korean artists in MOMA’s media art collection since Nam-June Baik.

Some of the famous universities or art colleges have opened new courses and degree program regarding new media art and technology. For example, Chung-Ang University has Graduate School of Advanced Imaging Science, Multimedia and Film.

Among several graduate labs run by this program, DATA (Digital Art and Technology Application) is focused on the idea that the digital art would inspire the development of technology. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) offers master and doctor degree on Cultural Technology program. Under Culture Technology Research Center, there are sound, digital media, digital storytelling and cognition and 3 other labs. Korea National University of Arts, Soongsil University also popular school for new media art courses.

There are Galleries, museums and websites that also have shown their effort to introduce new media art to the public. First of all, as I said earlier, there are alternative spaces that do not hesitate to present new forms of art like Loop, Sarubia, Ssamzie Space, Insa Art Space. Especially Insa Art Space was opened in 2000 supported by government. They particularly have more interest in research and development on media art. They have introduced Korean new media artist. Also they have archived these artists’ works and have lots of workshops. They have ‘video data bank like system’ as well. Anyone can check out the archives and watch it in there for free.

Some art spaces have appeared advocating specifically new media art such as Art Center Nabi. It was opened in 2000. The name Nabi, meaning butterfly in Korean, connotes that its aim is to be a mediator that connects between art and technology and Humanities and Sociologies like the butterfly helps the flowers to have fruit. They had an interesting web and a mobile gallery shows with Cyworld Korea, social networking web site, and SK Telecom, Mobile Telecommunications operator, targeting young people in 2007. They recently had an experimental media art show to celebrate Hangulnal, Korean Word Proclamation day. 14 artists attempted to suggest new relationships between digital media and Hangul.

Underground Art Channel is an open website that introduces underground artist’s experimental moving images, video arts, performances since 2005. They have groped the new way of communication through web based art making. There are some media art webzines such as Aliceon and Eyeball. Web based critics introduce new media art exhibition and upload reviews. Especially Eyeball offer English version so that it has open chance to communicate with non-Korean speaker.

Various attempts and activities for Korean new media arts have become more energetic. The related activities and gallery shows have reached its peak in 2008. Lots of educated contemporary artists and art historians embrace new media art in various ways. They have rapidly caught up media art trend in the west with their own interpretation. I would like to introduce some of the interesting shows and activities.

The Fifth Seoul International Media Art biennale is successfully long running now. The First Seoul International Media Art biennale, Media city Seoul, was held in 2000 and since, it has continued. It aims to introduce media artist from all over the world to Korean public. First Biennale introduced 93 artists from 19 counties including, Nam June Baik, Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Bill viola, Tony Oursler, Matthew Barney, Dan Graham and so on. In this year, 2008, under the theme, Turn and Widen, 77 works of art from 26 countries are participating in this festival. Even though the Biennale is focused on featuring world famous artists and curators rather than Korean based artist and curators, and introducing new media art to the public regardless of the ability to arise discourses as an art, biennale it is still very meaningful in the sense that introduce new form of art to Korean public.

KAIST and National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea held a show together called “ Science spirit and Contemporary art” from November 5th to December 5th 2008.

5 KAIST based artists and 38 other Korean artists solve the problem ‘what is science to the artist?’ with digital media incorporating optics, computer science, the universe, robot, Nano research, Archeology, Geometry and so on. This project is focused on the perspective of the artists who changed their artistic paradigm due to scientific contemplation.

Technology and Aesthetic Research Society had their first forum on November 26th. This Research Society is proposed for the reconstitution and building new network through bringing in discourses on Korean new media art. For their first Forum, they introduce two media artists, Hong-sup Jung and ki-jong Jin and had a conversation with editors and curator and a discussion with audience.

In spite of high technological development, fastest Internet speed and broadest system in the world, the low awareness of technology as art medium in Korea very disappointed me in the first place when I came to the United States and started to have interest in media art and history. However, throughout this semester’s long research, I have witnessed that many of Korean artists have endeavored on this subject for long. There have been lots of artists and organizations that actively experiment and contemplate on new technology and art to interpret in their own way. The only problem was that it was very hard to access to the information about new media art and artists on web. You can hardly get some information about new media art in Korea if you google ‘new media art in Korea’. Even the most famous media art webzine ‘Aliceon’ does not appear. When you find a good artist from random people’s blogs or even after the offline show you can hardly get information besides the offline gallery shows. Usually the artists do not have their own web space. Fortunately I happened to find some Korean media art webzine after pretty long frustration and then I was able to collect the information about media art in Korea. If the Korean media art society makes its activities and achievements more accessible to anyone and enable the information to the non-Korean speaker as well, we could expect the positive infra, arising more attention and having more active communication and discussion. If the media art society in Korea keeps working on as today while considering the problem I proposed, we can hope more interesting new media art stuff from Korea that grows world widely.


Yuk Geun Byeong,

Chung-Ang University,

KAIST culture and technology Ceneter

Soongsil University Undergraduate media department,

Seoul Media Art Biennale,

Media Webzine Alice On, http://

Media Webzine, Eyeball,

National Museum of Contemporary Art, korea,

Insa Art Space,

Alternative Space Loop,

Art Center Nabi,

Ssamzie Space,

Techno-Asethtic Society,

Underground Art Channel,

Artist Yeondu Jung,

Research on1999-2008 Korean1 generation alternative spaces, Ban, e-jung,

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