Can you say what you really think? And what influence does your education, government, corporations and media play in what you think and say? The “Censorship” video exhibits on dispay at the Loop Gallery in Hongdae ask these weighty questions, in provocative and shocking fashion.
Loop Gallery Assistant Curator Hwang Daewon compiled a collection so various it almost defies description, challenging the imagination. During research into the works, Hwang found that the conventional definition of censorship – the prohibition of freedom of expression by the state – is not the focal point for the artists. Their deeper concern is the ways we restrict our thought and speech, as well as how various societal influences contribute to our self-imposed limitations. “If we think further to self censorship, then we can realize that censorship is not the problem by the others, outside, but the problem is also the problem of ourselves,” says Hwang.
When Kim Jong-il died, artist Daum Kim collected thousands of related tweets the moment the rumors hit cyberspace. He suggests the tweets offer a window into the real psyche of the South Korean nation because it only takes “a few seconds” to send a tweet. That immediacy short circuits our internal censorship, argues Kim.
“Because of that speed and real time many people expressed their subconsciousness.” said the artist. “Even in the tweets you could sense what our society is like, the atmosphere.”
While the source of Kim’s work is text – the tweets – his exhibit employs video and sound, with haunting graphics and voices evoking expressions of the subconscious. Like many of the works on display their effectiveness is not found in their beauty but in their provocation of thought.
Kim sees the seeds of censorship in Korean society planted early on. “We’ve been taught from our society even before we have the concept of censorship. They teach you what is wrong and what is right,” Kim says.
That censorship also carries particular political motivations. “From our kindergarden, elementary school, middle school, and high school, and after that most of the males go to the army services – Korean society keeps pushing you about anti-communism. That is I think one of the most key pressures or this limits, or censorship our society has,” the artist says.
The exhibit coincides with heated debate in Korean society over relations with North Korea, and the recent incarceration of pro-North Korea activists, including lawmaker Lee Seo-ki. Lee was sentenced to 12 years in prison for plotting an uprising against the South Korean government in the case of war with North Korea. Lee was also charged with making comments sympathetic of North Korea, breaking a law which even South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency calls “draconian.” Nobel Laureatte Kim Dae-jung was once jailed on simlar charges.
While Kim’s work does not address the issue of the National Security Law it does, through the tweets, suggest the ways media may capitlize on events to shift public attention. “Kim Jong-il’s death news just covered BBK,” recites an ominous voice as the text flitters across the screen.
This is reminiscent of a recent scandal over charges that members of various government agencies sought to influence the election of Park Geun-hye through – what else – social networks. Liberal commentators charge that the Lee Seok-ki prosecution represented the National Intelligence Service’s effort to turn public attention away from the election scandal in which it was engulfed.
For many of the artworks on display, media manipulation qualifies as censorship.
But this exhibit is not just about South Korea, as some 24 works of 21 artists are on display. The most shocking may be “Zombie Frog Ballet!” by China’s Lu Yang. The artist connected electrodes to the brains of dead frogs, following their use in medical experiments. The frogs were then subjected to electical impulses and music, which causes the dead animals to twitch about as they are prone upright in a water tank. The desription of the the work asks, “If censorships that utilize media and technology adopt such a physiological strategy, how can we be free from them?”
Cambodia’s Khvay Samnang’s “Newspaper Man” aimlessly wanders a desolate beach, stumbling over the debris of indigenous housing destroyed to make way for redevelopment. The work “represents the victims of developmental policies and environmental problems, but also bears a strong criticism of conformist journalism that gives in to money and power.”
Likewise Renan Ortiz of the Philippines takes aim at the media, “which portrays the US only as the land of freedom, and brings into question the very meaning of freedom of expression under the situation where patriotism can justify wars.” Using the U.S. flag as a videographic template “Ode to Empire” synthesizes the sounds of war and American leaders with images of war to chilling effect.
Taiwan’s Su Hui-Yu further criticises media’s overexposure with the surreal “The Upcoming Show” which describes and then depicts Taiwan’s desperate efforts to fill television time slots with whatever programs that could be found.
All of the exhibits are alternative and some quite shocking, if thought provoking. “Censorship: The 7th Move on Asia” is part of a series hosted at galleries throughout the region since 2004, and runs at the Loop Gallery in Hongdae thru March 21.