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The Hidden Cost of Prosperity Exhibition at Korean Cultural Centre

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
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In the current economic climate, we tend to think of art as a luxury. However, art lays beat the hidden underbelly of prosperity. With South Korea's rapid industrialisation, the poor have been sidelined in the country's modernisation. Until the 6th of June, our friends at the Korean Cultural Centre are showcasing artists who draw a glass that shows an inmost part of how one of the most competitive societies on Earth affects those that can't compete.

Seungwook Koh's video installations of a man running in a crowd, pedalling on a bike chained to a wall and dry swimming on mud are reminiscent of Spike Milligan's Seminal silent comedy, "Running, Jumping and Standing Still", only the comedy sours when you realise it shows how people have to work hard just to keep still. It takes on an absurdist quality akin to Waiting For Godot, as the Triathlete never reaches the finish line.

While the exhibition is made of video art, the photography of Gangwoo Lee captures the demise of the coal industry in his View Of Choram Rivers, which any northerner can relate to. Since South Korea is associated with futuristic cityscapes, you would think you were north of the DMZ. Lee describes the coal mines replacement with casinos as if he were eulogising a lost friend, but also as if the post- industrial society and its interest in alternative energy has passed the area by. You only have to look at Detroit or the valleys of South Wales to see further examples. Could Silicon Valley be next?

You can use this exhibition to judge for yourself about how the most vulnerable are tested by the phenomenal growth. You can even see how it affects animals when you watch Ayoung Kim's film telling the story of a racehorse, Every North Star. Telling the story of a female jockey who couldn't compete due to mistreatment, it forces you to question the concept of sport and competition, but also how competition affects the most vulnerable: the animal. Mind you, it would work better as a drama, which would show what a society based on winning does to horse and rider. One quote stood out as bitterly ironic, as it really shows how her abilities were waning: "We want to be recognised for our abilities, not our genders." If her abilities waned, it shows how a competitive society can be socially exclusive and exclusionary. Indeed, these artists explore the aftermath of what happens when people can't adapt to a new game or increasing innovation. You're forced to question whether competition and innovation are a good thing, especially when you're condemned to the margins if you lose or are eclipsed by a new process or invention that does what you originally did, only thirty times better.

Aside from a few captions that need sub-editing, you can really sense the isolation that comes from the idea of being an individual in the exhibition that prizes individual achievement and the alienation of being an underachiever in Sejin-Kim's photographs of the night workers in McDonald's, who often sit alone. This exhibition really captures the underbelly of a First world country at its most desolate, hidden by its vibrancy and futuristic energy.
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When: 10 May 6 June 2013
Where: Grand Buildings 1-3 Strand, London, Greater London WC2N 5BW, United Kingdom
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