The University Art Gallery has a reputation for exposing students to progressive and thought-provoking exhibits. Its latest collection, “transPOP: Korea Vietnam Remix,” supported by the Korea Foundation, Vietnamese Arts & Letters Association (VAALA) and the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network (DVAN), opened on Oct. 2.
The exhibit was co-curated by Viet Le, an artist and independent curator, and Yong Soon Min, associate professor and department chair of the Studio Art Department at UC Irvine. The gallery sought to present the history of relations between Korea and Vietnam and to identify how much Korean pop culture has become a part of modern Vietnamese society and vice versa.
Most people are unaware of the established connections between Korea and Vietnam. However, they go back several decades, most noticeably around the time of the Vietnam War.
“The Vietnam War was the connection,” Min said. “Over 20,000 Koreans found jobs in Vietnam during the war. This is very little known history to the U.S.”
This start in Vietnam helped enable Korea to transform itself into the 12th largest economy in the world and set the platform for its entry in the World Trade Organization.
Inevitably, when this happened, Korea’s influence on Vietnam began to grow within the entertainment industry with the “Korean Wave,” a popularization of Korean dramas, music, films and fashion in Vietnam. “There are lots of ties due to pop culture,” Min said. “The transPOP exhibit helps bring this to the present.”
Upon entering the gallery, there was a welcoming feeling of space. The exhibit was simple and not a sensory overload, which I appreciated, although this is not due to lack of material. Sixteen artists from around the world offered their creations for public viewing within the gallery; however this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of the entire “transPOP” exhibit. “Due to the limited space, we are only showing about one-third of the pieces, about one piece per artist,” Min said.
Besides the political undertones and references in the art itself, no two pieces are alike. Mediums range from oil on canvas to video projection screens to photographs, yet all pieces in the gallery are cohesive. The flow is ironically calm, despite the intense subject matter.
Several pieces within the collection stand out. The first one is “Drama no. 5,” a digital video project by Oh Yongseuk that depicts several situations in a very fascinating and unique way. The exhibit is in a back corner and has two screens, each adjacent to the right angle of the room. Each scene displays a tranquil landscape that, upon first notice, some would call “serene,” or some other adjective that is completely off base. Upon closer inspection, however, there are horrors like rape and domestic violence.
Sanghee Song’s “National Theater Video” is another impressive piece. The video replays a politician stating that it is time for the nation to find peace. Each time the phrase comes out of his mouth, he is shot in cold blood. The replay is awe-inspiring and doesn’t allow the viewer a chance to look away.
Jerica Rosario, a second-year business economics major, enjoyed Hung’s acrylic paintings. “I liked Nguyen Manh Hung’s painting, ‘Building.’ It was a contradiction and the details shown were great,” Rosario said.
Despite the incredible artwork, Min’s aim with the exhibit appealed to students. “I want to keep the history of our past alive,” Min said. “I want [students] to question how they respond to art.”
She also noted that she wanted to expose students to the true diversity that happens within the world of art.
“transPOP” is a traveling exhibit, and will run at the University Art Gallery until Nov. 8, having previously been shown in Seoul, South Korea.
The gallery will also be offering a round table panel with the curators on Sunday, Nov. 2, at 1:30 p.m. in Studio Art Room 160 followed immediately by a curator’s walkthrough with both Min and Le at 3:30 p.m. Admission to all events is free.