Friday Late Night: Korea at the V&A, London

Written by on August 12, 2014 in Arts, Korea Abroad, Worldwide Korea Bloggers

 

Image courtesy of the Korean Cultural Centre UK

Image courtesy of the Korean Cultural Centre UK

 The Victoria & Albert Museum hosted a wonderful late night event back in May this year with the focus on Korean popular culture. The Museum is  the world’s largest of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. The last Friday of every month, it hosts late night Fridays featuring a curated programme of events, featuring live performances, cutting-edge fashion, film, installations, debates, special guests and DJs, with bars and food. On the Friday 30th May, the focus was on Korea. It had everything  from Korean Pop music to table stitching.  There was something for everyone to try, to see, to taste, to listen to and to take part in! In the foyer, all were  greeted by a sea of red cloth which was a piece entitled ‘Red Complex’ created by Borim Jun and Seung Hwan Lee, with the red symbolising the broader sweep of Korean Culture. In the cafe area they were serving steaming hot bowls of Korean Kimchi Jigae (Korean Soup) and Korean style Chicken for those wanting to stretch their taste buds. In the spirit of all things Korean, I tried it, with disappointing results. I wondered if it had been made in an authentic Korean way as it had somewhat of a vinegary taste to it, and none of the taste that I expected of these dishes. Food aside, there was quite an array of events to choose from and when I had entered, I was not sure where to start. Thankfully there was a four page brochure on hand to show myself and visitors where to go to experience the events that were being held around the museum. Despite this, it was quite easy to get lost and this I did! Thankfully they had friendly V&A staff peppered around to assist. I did not get around to attending all the events, but I was able to meet up with my cousin and a few friends who attended some of the events with me. I did like the two workshops,  the soap sculpture and table stitching which were coordinated by the artist’s themselves, Soojin Kang and Meekyoung Shin respectively.

Various events at the V&A

Various events at the V&A

Having never stitched in my life apart from my home economic days in school, I thought I would educate myself in the traditional art of Jogakbo the workshop being held by Soojin. So into the learning centre room I wandered and came upon this long oblong table with colourful pieces of cloth, needles and threads upon it. It looked like the beginnings of a mad hatter’s tea party, only without the mad hatter, the march hare and the dormouse, not forgetting the tea and its accoutrements!I promptly sat on the bench facing the table and picked up two small pieces of cloth, a needle and looked helplessly around. A friendly French girl came to my aid and asked me the five dangerous words Would you like to learn? Nodding vigorously, I decided to follow her instructions of stitching the two pieces together. We were soon joined by two other ladies and it got slightly complicated for me to follow, since my instructor was no longer focused on me and I was left behind to follow my own devices. As a result I made somewhat of a stitching mess and decided it was probably best to give my space to someone who was likely to adapt better to needle and thread. I quickly hurried away to find my friend, Polly, who had texted me to say she had just arrived.

My greatly exaggerated experience of Jogakbo

My greatly exaggerated cartoon experience of Jogakbo

I have greatly exaggerated my French instructor’s reaction to my stitching above as she encouraged me to stay. However despite my fumbling attempt, the idea was a beautiful one, each person would come and have a go at stitching Jogakbo creating a patch work quilt that would be combined by each person’s effort resulting in a beautiful piece of art.

Meekyoung Shin, Vase made of soap

Meekyoung Shin, Vase made of soap

Wandering around the museum, I was struck by the beauty of Meekyoung’s soap carvings. They were being showcased in the Korean section of the museum and they posted a member of staff to stand there and point out that the sculptures were indeed made of soap. Otherwise people were just passing by unaware.Inspired by the vases, I signed up for her workshop and had a slightly better result in comparison with the needle threading. It could also be to do with the fact I dragged along my cousin, Ishaan and his friend, Olivier, for moral support. Typical Korean designs were placed on the table to choose from, or you could carve your own. I went free style and drew a flower. However Olivier who I suspect had done this before produced a wonderful carving. (See last cell of the picture below) We were both allowed to take home our finished result. At least I will always have a backup, if I run out of soap at home! Well, as a last resort!

Meekyoung Shin workshop

Meekyoung Shin workshop

In the John Madejski garden various events were taking place. Made of Chair, was encouraging museum goers to dress up in both Hanbok and Gomusin, Korean tradtional dress and shoes made of rubber and sit on a chair of a straw made by designer Kim Been. As I had experienced the full Hanbok experience, including the shoes, I decided to give this event a miss, but I was able to enjoy the Bridge Korean Drummers, who were playing Samullori, in the garden,  a contemporary form of percussion playing folk music known as P’ungmu.

'Made of chair' image courtesy of the Korean Cultural Centre UK

‘Made of chair’ image courtesy of the Korean Cultural Centre UK

I also witnessed the  great poet, Ko Un, who undoubtedly stole the show with his passionate and enigmatic reading of his Poems I left behind with Sir Andrew Motion translating them into English. Taking place in the Raphael Room, the eerie underlit haunting atmosphere gave life and prominence to his words.

The Poet Ko Un. Image courtesy of the Korean Cultural Centre, UK

The Poet Ko Un. Image courtesy of the Korean Cultural Centre, UK

Despite missing out on the Director’s talk by Seok-Ho Yun and the Visualisation of taste by Jinhyun Jeon being completely booked out. Other events, like Sung Jung’s laboratory gave both adults and children alike the chance to get in touch with the creative side and make animals, creatures using emotional quotient blocks of various shapes and colours. Eunhee Jo with Surface Matters, challenged people with her tangible textural interface, where you could control sound using a fabric surface and feeling it respond beneath your fingers. There were also screenings of  Junebum Park’s videos of ‘puppeteer’ concept in controlling the everyday lives in Korea.Lastly but by no means least, all visitors were bopping along to the musical K-Pop stylings of DJ Phat in the main foyer. Despite being unable to attend a few of these events it was a wonderful evening overall.  No doubt Londoners  and the 5,000 visitors to the museum who were there that night were entranced by the culture of Korea and it left them with an appetite for wanting more.

Written by Diya Mitra of  Diya on Korea. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. All pictures here unless otherwise credited are courtesy of the Korean Cultural Centre UK.

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About the Author

I fell in love with Korea through friends and visiting the country in 2007 and have attempted to visit every year since! Although I was born in India, I have lived in London for most of my life. I often find similarities between Indian and Korean culture, although my outlook on life is very broad incorporating a world view. Apart from studying the language and using every opportunity I get to learn about the culture, I am usually to be found in the corner of a room writing in my blue notebook in Hangul and occasionally staring out the window at clouds hoping to star in a Korean movie. You can visit my website: Diyaonkorea .com to find out more about my adventures and perceptions of Korean Culture.