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Artists look back on history of democracy in 'Better Man'

Choi Ha-neyl's 'Korean Dream,' featuring five sculptures symbolizing underrepresented groups in Korean politics ― transgender, single mother, gay, refugee and migrant worker group, is on display at 'The Better Man 1948-2020: Pick Your Representative for the National Assembly' exhibit at the Ilmin Museum of Art in central Seoul. Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art
Choi Ha-neyl's 'Korean Dream,' featuring five sculptures symbolizing underrepresented groups in Korean politics ― transgender, single mother, gay, refugee and migrant worker group, is on display at 'The Better Man 1948-2020: Pick Your Representative for the National Assembly' exhibit at the Ilmin Museum of Art in central Seoul. Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Amid the COVID-19 crisis that is still impacting the nation, the April 15 parliamentary election is approaching. A new art exhibition starting Tuesday sheds light on the significance of elections in Korea's modern history.

"The Better Man 1948-2020: Pick Your Representative for the National Assembly," co-organized by the Ilmin Museum of Art and the National Election Commission (NEC), looks back on Korea's 72-year history of elections and how voting shaped personal and national fate with some 400 archive pieces from the NEC and works of 21 contemporary artists reinterpreting the importance of elections.

The history of elections in modern Korea goes along with the development of democracy here. Beginning with the May 10, 1948 elections for the Constitutional Assembly, authoritarian administrations distorted the election system in their favor and the people protested against their fraudulent actions, resulting in the introduction of a direct presidential election system.

The exhibit explores the history and significance of elections from the perspective of conceptual art and behavioristic performance art. Visitors can engage through some participatory artworks, showcasing how individual voices can exert political power.

"We explored how elections transformed the shape of contemporary art, especially in the current social media environment and how art evolved as campaign or propaganda," the museum's curator Cho Ju-hyun said during a press preview last week.

NOLGONG's
NOLGONG's "I Will Make It Happen!!!' / Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art

Upon entering, visitors can take part in "Weekly Vote," which features a series of yes or no questions such as "Should Korea set up a new criteria granting K-pop singers an exemption from military service?" and "Should collected taxes be used to support young artists?" Along with the voting system, visitors can take part in "Legislation Theater" with experts and artists every Wednesday and the ballots will be counted every Sunday using NEC's official ballot counting machine.

"Among 240,000 election-related archive materials from the NEC, we tried to organize the exhibit more engagingly than just chronologically displaying them. First up is democracy," Cho explained. "The 1948 Constitutional Assembly election was the first election held in Korea, which was universal suffrage. While Europeans fought for universal suffrage, Koreans acquired it along with liberation from Japanese colonial rule."

The exhibit also sheds light on the nameless people who took part in the major revolutions such as the April 19 Revolution of 1960, the Gwangju Uprising of 1980 and the June Struggle of 1987.

Ahn Kyu-chul's "69 Promises" is a series of monochrome paintings, which is painted with the color used in presidential campaign posters. Strong colors and images are diluted to gray, muted tones, difficult to distinguish from one another, displaying obscurity.

Chun Kyung-woo created "Listener's Chair," which consists of 24 chairs inside the museum, a chair on the outer wall and a speech room at Gwanghwamun Square. The voices of speakers at the plaza are delivered to headphones installed at the 24 chairs and those who sit on the chairs can listen to those stories.

On the second floor, NOLGONG created "I Will Make It Happen!!!," which raises awareness of the importance of election pledges. Visitors can vote again in the 19 past presidential elections, only knowing the candidate's campaign pledges without knowing their name or party.

Always at the mercy of the nationalist patriarchy, Korea's minority groups have long lacked acknowledgement let alone political representation. The exhibit also sheds light on their struggle.

Choi Ha-neyl's "Korean Dream" features five sculptures symbolizing underrepresented groups in Korean politics ― transgender, single mother, gay, refugee and migrant worker groups. None from these groups were elected for the National Assembly and Choi imagines a moment where they have been elected for the post, questioning Korea's deep-rooted exclusivist nationalism. Han Sol's "Boys Don't Cry" upends stereotypes on femininity and masculinity.

Even questions around animal rights are addressed too. Edongshi's "Animal Party Manifest" features polling booths for animals, built to their unique measurements.

Korea's previous election posters from the archive of National Election Commission / Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art
Korea's previous election posters from the archive of National Election Commission / Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art

Korea's long history of political corruption is featured on the third floor section of the exhibition entitled "Fraudulent Elections". The archive shows a variety of rigged polls in Korea from the March 15 election under the corrupt Syngman Rhee administration through to the indirect electoral system implemented by Park Chung-hee.

"Everyday Practice" pulls out keywords from campaign slogans and pledges seen in presidential election posters. Though they all advocate the ideal state, the utopian phrases are rather unstable and rather ridiculous. Visitors can combine the words to create their own poster using a letterpress printing machine.

Jung Yun-sun's "Gwanghwamun Gymnasium ― Memories of Injustice" is a re-creation of Jangchung Arena, known for hosting corrupt presidential elections during the 1970s and the "cart bars" where citizens headed after the election. Here, visitors can discuss the meaning of democracy with artificial intelligence smart speakers.

The exhibition runs through June 21.


Choi Ha-neyl's 'Korean Dream,' featuring five sculptures symbolizing underrepresented groups in Korean politics ― transgender, single mother, gay, refugee and migrant worker group, is on display at 'The Better Man 1948-2020: Pick Your Representative for the National Assembly' exhibit at the Ilmin Museum of Art in central Seoul. Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art
Choi Ha-neyl's 'Korean Dream,' featuring five sculptures symbolizing underrepresented groups in Korean politics ― transgender, single mother, gay, refugee and migrant worker group, is on display at 'The Better Man 1948-2020: Pick Your Representative for the National Assembly' exhibit at the Ilmin Museum of Art in central Seoul. Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Amid the COVID-19 crisis that is still impacting the nation, the April 15 parliamentary election is approaching. A new art exhibition starting Tuesday sheds light on the significance of elections in Korea's modern history.

"The Better Man 1948-2020: Pick Your Representative for the National Assembly," co-organized by the Ilmin Museum of Art and the National Election Commission (NEC), looks back on Korea's 72-year history of elections and how voting shaped personal and national fate with some 400 archive pieces from the NEC and works of 21 contemporary artists reinterpreting the importance of elections.

The history of elections in modern Korea goes along with the development of democracy here. Beginning with the May 10, 1948 elections for the Constitutional Assembly, authoritarian administrations distorted the election system in their favor and the people protested against their fraudulent actions, resulting in the introduction of a direct presidential election system.

The exhibit explores the history and significance of elections from the perspective of conceptual art and behavioristic performance art. Visitors can engage through some participatory artworks, showcasing how individual voices can exert political power.

"We explored how elections transformed the shape of contemporary art, especially in the current social media environment and how art evolved as campaign or propaganda," the museum's curator Cho Ju-hyun said during a press preview last week.

NOLGONG's
NOLGONG's "I Will Make It Happen!!!' / Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art

Upon entering, visitors can take part in "Weekly Vote," which features a series of yes or no questions such as "Should Korea set up a new criteria granting K-pop singers an exemption from military service?" and "Should collected taxes be used to support young artists?" Along with the voting system, visitors can take part in "Legislation Theater" with experts and artists every Wednesday and the ballots will be counted every Sunday using NEC's official ballot counting machine.

"Among 240,000 election-related archive materials from the NEC, we tried to organize the exhibit more engagingly than just chronologically displaying them. First up is democracy," Cho explained. "The 1948 Constitutional Assembly election was the first election held in Korea, which was universal suffrage. While Europeans fought for universal suffrage, Koreans acquired it along with liberation from Japanese colonial rule."

The exhibit also sheds light on the nameless people who took part in the major revolutions such as the April 19 Revolution of 1960, the Gwangju Uprising of 1980 and the June Struggle of 1987.

Ahn Kyu-chul's "69 Promises" is a series of monochrome paintings, which is painted with the color used in presidential campaign posters. Strong colors and images are diluted to gray, muted tones, difficult to distinguish from one another, displaying obscurity.

Chun Kyung-woo created "Listener's Chair," which consists of 24 chairs inside the museum, a chair on the outer wall and a speech room at Gwanghwamun Square. The voices of speakers at the plaza are delivered to headphones installed at the 24 chairs and those who sit on the chairs can listen to those stories.

On the second floor, NOLGONG created "I Will Make It Happen!!!," which raises awareness of the importance of election pledges. Visitors can vote again in the 19 past presidential elections, only knowing the candidate's campaign pledges without knowing their name or party.

Always at the mercy of the nationalist patriarchy, Korea's minority groups have long lacked acknowledgement let alone political representation. The exhibit also sheds light on their struggle.

Choi Ha-neyl's "Korean Dream" features five sculptures symbolizing underrepresented groups in Korean politics ― transgender, single mother, gay, refugee and migrant worker groups. None from these groups were elected for the National Assembly and Choi imagines a moment where they have been elected for the post, questioning Korea's deep-rooted exclusivist nationalism. Han Sol's "Boys Don't Cry" upends stereotypes on femininity and masculinity.

Even questions around animal rights are addressed too. Edongshi's "Animal Party Manifest" features polling booths for animals, built to their unique measurements.

Korea's previous election posters from the archive of National Election Commission / Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art
Korea's previous election posters from the archive of National Election Commission / Courtesy of Ilmin Museum of Art

Korea's long history of political corruption is featured on the third floor section of the exhibition entitled "Fraudulent Elections". The archive shows a variety of rigged polls in Korea from the March 15 election under the corrupt Syngman Rhee administration through to the indirect electoral system implemented by Park Chung-hee.

"Everyday Practice" pulls out keywords from campaign slogans and pledges seen in presidential election posters. Though they all advocate the ideal state, the utopian phrases are rather unstable and rather ridiculous. Visitors can combine the words to create their own poster using a letterpress printing machine.

Jung Yun-sun's "Gwanghwamun Gymnasium ― Memories of Injustice" is a re-creation of Jangchung Arena, known for hosting corrupt presidential elections during the 1970s and the "cart bars" where citizens headed after the election. Here, visitors can discuss the meaning of democracy with artificial intelligence smart speakers.

The exhibition runs through June 21.


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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