In Cyberspace everybody can hear you scream
by Im Sun-young
20 October 2006
Emil Goh has reaaranged his actual room to resemble his miniroom on Cyworld in his work “miniroom.”
With the largest number of Internet users and broadband Internet connections per capita in the world, contemporary Korean can no longer function without the Internet and its culture is becoming increasingly pervasive. For a month and a half until Nov. 28, seven young individual artists and one art group will display 10 works which reflect these phenomena. The exhibition, titled “R U Logged On ^^;?” is at the Ssamzie Space, a gallery located near Hongik University, northwest of Seoul.
The first two floors of the three-story exhibition won’t give visitors a full picture because the only pieces on display there are a computer program/video installation piece by an artist who uses the pseudonym Yangachi, on the first floor, and a poster which covers the entire floor by Art Group Ninano Project on the second. Neither look like art of the kind that people might be familiar with. Although these two pieces are said to address significant aspects of Internet culture, the meaning of the exhibition won’t be apparent until viewers get to the third floor, where six artists explain their views of online activities in Korean.
Here visitors are greeted by a large Korean letter, “bweark,” in bright yellow and blue, protruding from the wall. Created by Zin Ki-jong, the letter spells out a Korean neologism, or newly created word, from the English word “break.” This odd letter, which originated from online users, commonly represents anything that is weird, uncanny or unpleasant, and is one of the best examples of the cyber language that Koreans have taken from the Internet to use in their real lives, regardless of their educational level.
“The usage of online slang in real life has become so prevalent that they are now used as a way to define a person,” explains Shin Hyun-jin, the curator of the exhibit. The work dismisses the idea of the Internet as a separate world called cyberspace, as it has previously been labeled, because online culture has penetrated so much into people’s off-line lives.
Next to this is a work by Emil Goh, a noted Chinese-Malaysian-Australian artist, who is here as the Ssamzie’s artist-in-residence. Titled “MiniRoom,” it is one of 11 pieces from his “Mycy Series,” where he juxtaposes his “miniroom” next to his actual room. As a foreigner who has been more accustomed to using four different Web sites for putting up four different forms of material, he found Cyworld, a Korean blog that holds pictures, posts, video clips and diaries, or “the aggregate of all the best things internet’s got to offer” absolutely fascinating.
“Supposedly, almost 99 percent of Koreans in their 20s own a Cyworld account. This means that the Internet or Cyworld is no longer just online life. It is an extension of off-line life, just like cell phones, which have become an indispensable part of our lives,” said Emile Goh, who has been in Korea for three years now.
Especially intriguing to him was the “miniroom,” an imaginary room that Cyworld users create on their homepages to reflect their mood or to create a space they dream of having but cannot afford. Whereas most people use the rooms to create a room they dream of having, the artist went backwards, and reorganized his own room to reflect his miniroom.
In contrast, the Korean artist, Koh Seung-wook approaches Cyworld with a different perspective in his work “Cy-jil,” where he draws attention to the excessive time and effort Cyworld users put into their homepage to make and keep personal relationships. He displays a row of pictures that he has posted up on his Cyworld page, with the comments that his friends have added underneath. By observing the times at which each reply was posted, the viewer realizes the artist’s compulsive obsessesion with responding to every single one of his friend's comments within a short period.
While these artists portrayed the Internet as a source of human relations and indirect self-expression, another artist, Park Jung-hwan, approached the Internet with a more political viewpoint. Park realized that what has previously been a one directional medium just 10 years ago has turned into one where the traffic is always two-way . This is especially true with what he calls “reply culture,” the popular activity of adding comments, often ones that are totally irrelevant to the original topics, under articles or posts on the Web. With replies under posts related to political or social issues, Park believes that this can act as a stepping stone to true democracy. “Replies are revolution. It has enabled a new method for participating, enabling people to speak up for themselves and what they think much more easily,” he said.
The Internet has been playing a bigger role in Korean lives and the exhibition has been organized to reflect the changes in everyday life that have followed. “When people hear Internet, they expect fancy technology, computers and projections,” says Ms. Shin. “The exhibition shows that the fantasy of cyberspace is long gone. The Internet is just another part of Korean lives, and it was about time this aspect was reflected in artworks as well.”
The exhibition runs until Nov. 28.