The project started by trying to understand tourists’ desire to photograph relentlessly. The artist joined a tour group and experienced Seoul, his home town, in the tourists’ point of view. It was around the time when ‘Korean (pop culture) wave’ was bringing unprecedented numbers of foreign tourists to the city. Tourists move from one place to another, making photographs with familiar background but with their own body, like collecting trophy.
In ‘Object of desire’, performer wears four web cameras, which snaps photograph each time his heart beats. The performer is wearing special costume and repeating expressive gestures, walks around tourist sites in Seoul. His cameras constantly shoot photos of the landscape and other tourists, in return the other tourists takes picture of him. The photograph and video captured from the camera are subjective documentation, intentionally displacing performer’s ability to decide when and what to take picture. Therefore, one can look at the city of Seoul through the camera’s point of view.
Inside the gallery, the performer is acting like a tourists, making V sign with his hand and constantly shooting and photos, on a tourist photo point is recreated in 1:1 scale. The cameras shoot pictures of the audience, while they shoot his photos and pose.
Special thanks to all of my collaborators: Sae oong Jeon, Dio Lee, Kiryun Choi, Jaekyung Shim, Changhoon Oh, Sawool, and more and Savina Museum of Art, Seoul. Made in 2005
Since 2000, South Korean soap operas, multi series TV shows, and pop songs became increasingly popular in East Asian countries. With the world wide exposure of the country’s culture via 2002 FIFA World Cup and 2004 mega hit of the ‘Winter Sonata’ in Japan, Hallyu (Korean Pop Wave) extended to wider audience to Eastern Europe, Central America, and Africa. Japanese tourists were the first to travel in large numbers to South Korea as an extension of their fandom. Many were especially dedicated to the male protagonist of ‘Winter Sonata’, Bae Yong-Joon. The tour groups made stops at the location where the drama was shot. They would express extreme dedication for the actor and the products associated with him. It was the birth of the leisure class among middle class, middle aged women from Japan, China, and South East Asia.
The tourists exhibited a unique behavior of obsessively photographing themselves in the sites of the TV show. They would stand in long lines to have their picture taken as the companion to the wax figure of the actor. Also the buying power of the tourists were incomparably greater compared to the traditional tourists. Sometimes their behavior was seen as obscene, but South Koreans took advantage of its effects to produce more profit from the tourists. The tourist industry now transformed into a unique cultural industry, fusing pop culture and packaging of experience as a cultural commodity. South Korean government and the industry saw it as the hope for the future of the nation’s economy, thus investing large sums of fund and labor into the projects such as Sang Am Digital Media City (development complex for culture and game industry) , Ilsan Hallyuwood (hotel and multi purpose entertainment center in the outskirts of Seoul) , and Graduate School of Culture Technology at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Special school dedicated to developing technology for culture industry. The school which I was attending at the time)
All the craze and hype over the Korean Pop Wave was very big in 2005, and it is still continuing in 2008. Similar cultural export happened, in smaller scale, from Hong Kong movies in the 80s and Japanese Pop songs and animations in the 90s. It is questionable how the Korean Pop Wave will survive after 2010. Some indication success is predictable, largely based on the efforts to sustain its popularity from the Korean industry, but also from the neighboring nation’s culture industry’s effort to imitate and recreate the phenomenon with their cultural contents and possibly more audience, for example People’s Republic of China.
I was intrigued by the theatricality of the tourists and the construction of make-believe tourist reality of Seoul. The tourists were taken to a carefully designed paths, enabling them to experience more in a short time. Unlike the traditional tourists, whose main attraction was ancient cultural artifacts, the new comers were drawn to remains of the TV drama in the physical reality. One of the main location from ‘Winter Sonata’, a highschool which the main actors attended, was near my home in Seoul. A very typical highschool in the old town was soon made over as the cultural heritage. Groups of tourists filled the streets everyday, and the vendors sold pictures of the TV stars. The transformation of the space in to a cultural commodity was designed to maximize the consumption of the space by the tourists. As the tourists purchased tickets and post cards, they were as matter of face consuming the experience of participating in a performance called ‘Hallyu’.
Seoul Tourist office, driven by the need to do something to help the industry, produced few useless, but stunningly fascinating things in the period. One remarkable example is the Tourist Photography Spot, a stone pedestal placed in ideal photographic locations in the city. The object was quiet uncanny and it was most used by homeless people to take nap. (In my project, the object is recreated 1:1 scale inside the gallery space. It is also where I performed the suit)
Also the city hired actors to guard the four main gates. They marched in and out the gate daily, posing for the tourist’s camera. These guards, who did not guard anything, were not protecting the city from enemy, but welcoming the foreigners by creating authentic experience of the city.