If you don’t recognise the guards’ costumes from Squid Sport that loom on the V&A with their cerise fits and geometrical masks– the place have you ever been? This dystopian TV sequence was watched by properly over 100 million viewers in additional than 80 nations on its launch final yr. It’s a part of the surge of world popular culture from South Korea that Hallyu! – Korean for “wave” – celebrates.
The explanation this blockbuster present from the V&A interprets so properly is that it portrays its personal needs and considerations as common: it doesn’t recognise frontiers. In a century when many have turn into suspicious of globalisation, fleeing an economically and technologically unified world into renewed nationalism, South Korea has gone the opposite method. There’s no Krexit. This society embraces every little thing and everybody.
That outlook was anticipated by the late Korean-American video artist Nam June Paik: his 1986 set up Mirage Stage is among the present’s first highlights. Its array of flickering TV screens celebrates a zen-like hypnotic embrace of the limitless, limitless prospects of world communication. Right here that blend contains every little thing from Psy’s 2012 mega-hit Gangnam Type on a gap video wall to an area the place you’ll be able to try some Ok-pop dancing, to a spectacular show of up to date takes on conventional Korean hanbok gown.
Trend is prime to this exhibition’s light argument, for it does even have one below the infectious soundtrack. You might be surrounded by garments which are concurrently futurist and historical, a stunning historic remix. Till properly into the twentieth century, Korea was a pre-industrial society loyal to venerable customs. From 1910 till 1945 this identification survived colonisation by the Japanese empire. Hanbok fashion, with broad skirts for ladies and silk robes for males, expressed this outdated Korea: it was threatened once more when South Korea began to industrialise after the Korean battle. However now there appear to be infinite methods of reinventing hanbok, from a black and white lace-garnished go well with worn by Ok-pop star RM to a deconstructed underwear gown designed by Suh Younghee. Floral patterns are taken to ecstatic extremes, from refined gray petals to very large pink blooms to a gown within the form of an enormous peony.
It’s additionally in vogue the place you see one of the interesting facets of Ok-pop tradition, its freedom from stale photographs of gender. Not solely do female and male garments mix, so does the crafting of feminine and male magnificence. There’s a complete part on cosmetics and wonder remedies that reveals how Korean stars get their seems, from actor Lee Dong-wook modelling Boy de Chanel cosmetics to the pioneering use of inexperienced tea as a skincare therapy. A statue by Gwon Osang of Ok-pop idol G-Dragon as an angelic matador piercing a fallen demon along with his lance depicts each G-Dragon and his vanquished foe with beautiful androgynous magnificence.
This deliriously kitsch art work additionally factors to what could be the single most seductive facet of South Korea’s popular culture: its freedom from any type of cultural purity. It fortunately ransacks western artwork. G-Dragon’s heroic pose is modelled on Christian photographs of Saint George and the Archangel Michael. Why not? They’re as a lot grist to the mill because the Buddhist custom on this city, digital, post-everything worldview.
You may go inside a curtained sales space, braving the content material warning, to look at an in-your-face big-screen clip of a road combat from Park Chan-wook’s violent, surreal 2003 movie Oldboy, and see the ragged wig worn by its star Choi Min-sik. Oldboy is a wonderful instance of the choose’n’combine globalism of the Korean Wave: it’s primarily based on a Japanese manga model of the traditional French novel The Depend of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
Gangnam, the present reveals, is a rich district of Seoul. Its rise from rural suburb to high-rise glamour district is chronicled right here. However not everybody lives Gangnam-style: you’ll be able to peer into the tiny set of the poor household’s squalid rest room from Oscar-winning movie Parasite. Korean tradition’s universality contains dramatising the conflicts and injustices it shares with the remainder of the world – which is the dramatic coronary heart of Squid Sport.
But the overwhelming really feel of Ok-pop tradition, this pulsing present proves, is a joyous embrace of the circulate of modernity, an optimism that appears to have dried up elsewhere.