Korean Eye at the Saatchi Gallery is fresh, innovative, thought provoking and inspiring. The range of media, its scale and originality make this exhibition a fantastic visual experience. Once you’ve visited the gallery, you’ll want to go back again.
Communication, migration and the proliferation of global cultural currents mean that it is simplistic to categorise artists and artworks according to nationality. Localities are becoming more amorphous and conceptual, rather than being tied to physical locations. Just as the YBAs don’t define artistic practice across the UK, Korean Eye doesn’t sum up art in Korea, but it does provide a spotlight onto a place in which artists have been developing their individual ideas on the cultural flows that affect them. Our awareness of the national identity of the artists is the thread that links the artists together. But there is no defining aesthetic, no over-stylised interpretation of nationality: Korean Eye simultaneously constructs and destructs its own categorization - the art is ‘Korean’, but it presents national identity in terms of the international dialogues that affect not only the artists, but people worldwide.
There are direct references to Korean history and politics throughout the exhibition. Cho Duck Hyun’s The Nora Collection focuses on Nora Noh, a Korean fashion designer who is known for her determination to succeed despite restrictive environments perpetuated by traditional views of femininity and political turmoil, including the Japanese occupation. His graphite and charcoal images capture a sense of time passing - they are romantic and nostalgic.
Individual histories and attention to craftsmanship are also explored in Shin Meekyoung’s Translation Vase series. At first glance this room appears to be full of ancient Chinese pottery, and is reminiscent of a museum, but there is a subtle fragrance in the air: all of the vases are made from soap, intricately decorated with pigment. This realisation encourages us to look more closely at the detail within the work. Meekyoung draws attention to ideas of originality and reproduction, particularly between different cultures.
The relationship between technology and nature is a strong and recurring theme throughout the exhibition. Echo Daytime by Chae Mihyun and Dr. Jung, is an installation made from lasers. It calls to mind fluorescent fish, or the darting movement of fireflies. Using technology, the artists recreate a sense of the rhythm along with the erratic movements of the natural world. They remind us that we are gradually distancing ourselves from nature and relying more and more on synthetic materials. Similarly, Jae Baak’s The Structure of series uses footage of fairground rides to create moving collages of organic-jelly-fish-like forms. Watching these pieces is both soothing and disconcerting, as they slow down the fear and adrenaline of the ride and suspend the motion in space. Baak uses mechanical forms and technology to create elegant, organic images.
The Saatchi Gallery has a bold curatorial approach to exhibitions. Photographic images, paintings, sculptures and installations all have their own ‘territory’ within the gallery, and there are sometimes tensions between the artworks. In the upper rooms, Lee Jiyen’s large-scale architectural collage Above the Timber Line is full of motion and turbulence, but next to it, Bank Seon-Ghi’s Point of View, a burned wood installation of a stack of suitcases and bags, has a stillness and fragility, which is all the more prominent when juxtaposed with such contrasting work. Incongruities such as this maintain a sense of surprise and discovery throughout the exhibition.
Korean Eye is the must-see exhibition in London this summer. On leaving the gallery, there is a sense of having had insight into global concerns that affect individuals everywhere. Korean Eye is an interconnected web of ideas and aesthetics, approached through the eyes of Korean artists, but significant worldwide. The diversity of artistic approaches throughout the exhibition makes for an exciting show, at times spectacular, sometimes subtle and quiet, there is playful wit and astuteness throughout.