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4 Exhibitions in South Korea That Reflect Today’s Rapid Transition to a Digital Society

MMCA Seoul, MMCA Cheongju, PKM Gallery, and CR Collective hold exhibitions showing how digital technology is changing our culture.

Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

The society we live in today is built on digital media. Especially with the pandemic, the transition to a digital society has been dramatic, changing the very structure of our community.

Changes in lifestyle are changing the way we view society, and this has a lot to do with our attitudes towards art. Recently, South Korea has seen a spate of exhibitions showing how digital technology is changing our culture.

MMCA Seoul

Game Society

May 12, 2023 – September 10, 2023

Poster image of "Game Society," National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Seoul, Korea. (May 12, 2023 - September 10, 2023). Courtesy of the museum.

Digital games have become an integral part of our daily lives. Even if we don’t play games, we encounter similar visual effects and interfaces everywhere we go, such as dealing with kiosks, watching billboard videos and surfing Web pages on our phones. Games are becoming an essential form of social communication and culture in today’s society.

From May 12 to September 10, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) will present Game Society to explore how the grammar and aesthetics of the games we encounter every day are influencing contemporary art and visual culture, as well as our lives and society.

The exhibition provides an opportunity to reflect on a society where gamification is becoming more common. The exhibition showcases artworks that speak to various aspects of digital gaming, providing an opportunity to view games themselves in an artistic context. The exhibition further reflects on the marginalized people alienated from this daily life. For example, it gives us the opportunity to think of elderly people who never appear as the main character in games or the limitations that people with physical and mental disabilities have in playing games.

The exhibition features some 30 works, including video game collections from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), two museums that brought the medium of video games into the context of art in 2012 when they began collecting and exhibiting games, including Pac-Man (1980), SimCity 2000 (1993) and Minecraft (2011), as well as the MMCA’s collection.

The exhibition also presents works by eight contemporary artists who aesthetically interpret the grammar of video games, including Harun Farocki, Cory Arcangel, Lawrence Lek, Jacky Connolly, Lu Yang, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Ram Han and Kim Heecheon.

MMCA Cheongju

Digital Story: We Need Narratives

November 22, 2022 – December 31, 2023

Poster image of "Digital Story: We Need Narratives," National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Cheongju, Korea. (November 22, 2022 - December 31, 2023). Courtesy of the museum.

While Game Society at MMCA Seoul is an exhibition that presents an artistic discourse by focusing on the medium of games, Digital Story: We Need Narratives at MMCA Cheongju focuses on the museum’s digital art collections to view today’s artistic discourse in the broader context of digital media.

Unlike traditional painting or sculpture, artwork that uses digital media tells a story in a different way. Through media works that utilize digital software, including video, installation, sound, text, animation and photography, the exhibition reveals how artists view and artistically interpret digital media to understand the changing nature of contemporary art.

Part 1 of the exhibition, Image Puzzle, features installation works that combine photo collages, video collages and objects. Part 1 connects opposing concepts, such as two-dimensional planes and three-dimensional space, shows multiple perspectives in different places and times, and reveals the real and virtual relationship. Part 2, Staging of a Scene, features works that deal with artificially created moments or scenes. Using various media technologies and staging methods, participating artists created works as scenes from movies or theatrical pieces. Artificial World, the last part of the exhibition, showcases works by artists who have created surreal imaginary worlds through video, sound and image works.

The exhibition Digital Stories: We Need Narratives features the works of 40 Korean contemporary artists, including Kim Ki-ra, Ryu Ho-yeol, Park Je Sung, Park June-bum, Oh Sang-taek, Jang Seung-hyo, Jeon Jeong-eun, Jung Yeon-doo and Hong Buhm.

Installation view of Cody Choi: “HELLO KITTY: Database Painting Totem + NFT" at PKM & PKM+. Courtesy of PKM Gallery.

Cody Choi’s (b. 1961) solo exhibition Hello Kitty: Database Painting Totems + NFT runs through May 17 at PKM Gallery in Seoul. The exhibition features 33 new database paintings created between 2022 and 2023 that combine digital data printing and traditional painting techniques and nine NFT works created and registered in 2022.

The artist had been working on the concept of data generation and digitizing masterpieces since 1997 and 1998, but after witnessing his son, who was in kindergarten at the time, using a computer mouse instead of a pencil to create images of virtual worlds based on provided templates, he decided to change his artistic approach.

Based on this experience, the artist was convinced that in the 21st century, data, not human imagination, will be the resource for creation and that creation by self-replicating data through algorithms will become a way of artistic practice.

He mined the image data stored on his son’s computer and amplified, split and developed it into his own “genesis data.” To complete the pieces, the genesis data underwent “smart layering” as few as 400 and as many as thousands of times.

Poster image of Minjung Kim Solo Exhibition “Floating Cloud" at CR Collective, Seoul, Korea. Courtesy of the institution.

The preface to Minjung Kim’s solo exhibition, Floating Cloud, reveals the dual meaning of the term “cloud,” referring to both natural clouds and digital data storage. Kim reflects on our contemporary attitudes toward images by creating artworks with moving images in data storage.

Photos and videos produced by millions of mobile device users continue to accumulate and float around in today’s virtual space. Kim’s From My Cloud is a work made from surviving videos in iCloud, an intangible storage space on the internet. The artist gathered these footage sources, edited them as if they were endnotes and turned them into a work of art.

Through the works on display, the artist raises various questions, such as what we perceive as “video,” whether the collection of moving images in the data cloud can be established as a “video” work, and whether digital moving images that become “video” works can acquire physical value.

The process through which the stored image is delivered through a video/moving image as a medium requires specific “proper” values determined in accordance with various standards and criteria. However, just as a cloud is a mass of water vapor that is inherently intangible and floats in ever-changing forms, the values output by the standards and criteria that convey the image also change from moment to moment, which is why the artist believes that there are no absolute facts and truths in the medium of video. Instead, because they are not absolute, we can “marvel” at images that flow like clouds, both visible and unknowable.

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