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4 Important Figures of Korean Video Art

  • Korean video art from 1970s to 1990s
December 17, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The year 1965 is often cited by scholars as the moment video art was born as an artistic medium. It is related to the first live recording of Pope Paul VI’s visit to New York by the burgeoning artist and Fluxus proponent Nam June Paik. Although this prolific figure was born in Korea and trained in music, in the early 1960s he began experimenting with television sets, which led him to explore the very nature of a video signal through his immersive installations and performances.

Apparently, Paik’s internationally recognized practice resonated in his native country, so during the 1970s a new generation of artists started practicing video art, at that time already recognized as a fully autonomous medium. Naturally, it was still a completely new form of expression accepted with skepticism on the Korean art scene, however it gradually developed according to the latest technological advancements e.g. VCRs, video cameras and computers.

To unravel the country’s rich video production, The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in Seoul decided to organize a proper survey titled Korean Video Art from 1970s to 1990s: Time Image Apparatus.

The Exhibition Concept

The current exhibition examines a three-decades-long history of Korean video art by underlining the characteristics of its production and changes with more than one hundred works by more than sixty established artists. The early video works of the 1970s showcased performances, temporality, and process, the video sculptures of the 1980s and the 1990s treated video as a tool, while the late 1990s single-channel videos were more focused on the narration.

The installment consists of seven thematic sections starting with Korean Early Video Art and Experimental Art and Post-Genre Experiments and Technology, continuing with Video Sculptures and Kinetic Video Art, Body/Performance/Video, Society, Narrative, and Video, and ending with Mass Consumption Culture and Video Art, and Single-Channel and Multi-Channel Videos.

The keywords Korean contemporary art and the times are used as suitable counterpoints that indicate the complexity of this specific video art production which has shifted in regards to other contexts of science and art, technology and video culture, and the image and concept.

Korean Video Art at MMCA Seoul

This exhibition is not just a much-required survey of the lost histories but also a reflection of what is currently happening with this media. Therefore, the intention is to analyze, moderate and contextualize the production made during that period in terms of both local and international relevance.

Korean Video Art from 1970s to 1990s: Time Image Apparatus will be on display at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in Seoul, South Korea until 31 May 2020.

To bring you closer this important exhibition, we decided to briefly highlight the practices of four leading Korean video artists. Scroll down!

Featured image: Korean Art from 1970s to 1990s: Time Image Apparatus cover. Courtesy the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Seoul.

  • Park Hyunki - Untitled

Park Hyunki

A pioneering figure of Korean video art, Park Hyunki studied painting at Hongik University but graduated with a degree in architecture in 1964. During 1970s Park worked at an interior architecture firm to purchase equipment required for art-making, and he perceived the medium of video from the Eastern philosophical perspective as a spiritual symbol of materialism and Western technology.

Park Hyunki worked with low tech simplicity and meditative potentials of the sequences while treating the medium as a sculpture rather than exploring its technological advancements. He gradually gained international recognition and exhibited across the globe, and although none of his works were sold during his lifetime, a huge collection of Park’s artworks was donated to MMCA.

Featured image: Park Hynki – Untitled, 1979. Stone and monitor, 120 x 260 x 260 cm. MMCA Collection

  • Kim Kulim - Wiping Cloth

Kim Kulim

Another pioneering figure of Korean video art is Kim Kulim. This multidisciplinary self-taught artist was engaged with both traditional media such as painting and sculpture, as well as new media at the time such as installation, mail art, and land art.

Kim was a co-founder of an influential performance group named The Fourth Group together with Jung Chanseung and Chung Kangja in 1970; their performances were really critical of the system and had a huge impact on the Korean art scene. Throughout the decades the artist radically explored the materiality of painting, incorporated ready-made objects in his painted canvases, created installation art, staged performances, and is considered the first practitioner of mail art in Korea. Many of his actions were recorder implying his videos are more of a documentation of the artistic process.

Featured image: Kim Kulim – Whiping Cloth, 1974/2001. DVD (VHS Copy).

  • Kimsooja - Cities on the Move

Kimsooja

Artist Kimsooja studied Western painting at the Hongik University in Seoul so the painterly approach stands at the core of her practice. The artist gained attention after her clothed assemblages produced in a manner reminiscent of Lucio Fontana.

By underlining the sawing process, Kimsooja articulated the notion of female labor in the context of the local tradition. After the residencies at PS1: MOMA in 1992-93, she developed a series of site-specific installations that explored the origin in the Korean color spectrum. She used video as a media to capture her actions, for instance, Bottari Truck in Exile made in 1999 which features the continuation of Kimsooja’s interest in fabric, or A Needle Woman from the same year again focused on the notion of labor, position of women, stereotypes, and migration. This established artist represented South Korea at the 24th São Paulo Biennale in 1998 and was in the Korean Pavilion at the the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

Featured image: Kimsooja – Cities on the Move-Bottari Truck, 1997. Single-channel Performance Video, no sound.

  • Yang-Ah Ham - Sensuous Space

Yang-Ah Ham

Ham Yang Ah is the youngest of our four artists. She studied painting and art theory at Seoul National University, as well as media art at New York University. Afterward, Yang-Ah continues to experiment with the media of sculpture and installation, exhibiting internationally. Her practice revolves around metaphors that portray the social aspects of every day. Namely, the artist devotedly explores the themes concerning passing time and cycles which are often presented through narratives that blur the boundaries between fiction and truth.

Featured image: Yang Ah Ham – Sensous Space, 1998. Single-channel video. Color, sound, 9 min. 31 sec.