Thursday, February 2, 2017

Moving matter and hearts - Choe U-ram in Daegu

If you happen to pass by Daegu, you may witness a very rare gathering of elusive creatures, but be quick, they're about to take off very soon: only a few days left for CHOE U Ram's exhibition at the Daegu Art Museum!

CHOE himself is a very rare creature: at the same time a brilliant artist producing spectacular works, and an extremely modest human being, who sometimes refers to himself as a 'Cheonggyecheon dog', because according to him, even a dog would have learned all these techniques by just roaming the workshop neighborhoods the way he did as he grew up. A poet, a dreamer, and a maker, U-ram also happens to be one of the kindest people I ever met.

This robot hero he painted when he was 7, and the story that came with it were already very touching.

If nowadays, his 'anima machines' use more complex mechanisms and technologies, they are still about turning his fertile imagination into reality.

  URC-1, 2014 by Choe U-Ram from U-Ram Choe on Vimeo.

It was really moving to see all generations of visitors mesmerized by U-ram's poetic wonders.

In front of Choe U-ram's Scarecrow (
And I can't wait to discover what will come next from his Yeonhui-dong workshop.

'Choe U-Ram: [Stil laif]'
1 Nov 2016 – 12 Feb 2017
Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, Korea
40 Misulgwan-ro, Suseong-gu, Daegu 42250, Korea
T +82 (0)53 790 3000

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PS: also from last month's trip to Daegu:
Modern art or carwash? (

Vincent Van Gogh's poppy field, or buchujeon? (

Monday, January 23, 2017

AHN Hee-jung joins the fray

Frankly, there is no way out of impeachment for PARK Geun-hye - the sole story about that blacklist of artists should suffice to seal her fate. Now she's just trying to delay the process, wishing her judges were about to retire. 

Meanwhile, her partner in crime CHOI Soon-sil keeps denying the obvious, and pushing arrogance to new levels. The way she counterattacked her prosecutors by demanding proofs and testimonies, you'd believe she knows in which Thai river she had KO Young-tae's remains fed to the fishes.

"Dirty sleep", an art work featured in a special 'freedom of expression' exhibition at the National Assembly hall: PARK Geun-hye sleeps as the Sewol sinks, and CHOI Soon-sil provides syringes - 20170123 Chosun Ilbo "국회 의원회관에 '나체 상태의 박근혜 대통령' 그림 논란"
Again, let's hope justice will prevail (see "Of power vacua and excesses").

Now the question remains who's next in South Korea's doomest office (after acting prez HWANG Kyo-ahn), and in that regard, recent days have brought interesting developments: BAN Ki-moon has totally screwed up his return to Korea, LEE Jae-myung confirmed his candidacy, and AHN Hee-jung pulled out a perfect launch. Can MOON Jae-in maintain his lead until late Spring?

To sum it up: 

1) Korea needs a uniting, moderate, ideology-free leader to leverage on the formidable grassroot movement that saw 96% of the population stand up for democracy.
2) The political landscape is ultra-fragmented: Saenuri completely imploded around pro/anti-Park lines, and rivalries mar the opposition.
3) Two heavyweights lead in the polls, but fail to convince a majority. 
4) MOON Jae-in struggles to pass for a uniter after having embodied systematic opposition for years, and bullied AHN Cheol-soo out of the 2012 race. He's in Hillary's position: the best chance to win on paper, but a jaded politician, and a disliked favorite.
5) BAN Ki-moon had the resume: the UN international aura, ROH Moo-hyun-friendly enough to please the Left, conservative and reform-averse enough to please the Right, a soft spoken gentleman old enough to play the role of the benevolent patriarch of the nation..., but if he shined as a minister, BAN never proved his prowess in the driver's seat, and from the start he let his campaign be hijacked by a Dark Side of the Force desperate to find a leader following PGH's collapse. He had the ideal profile to reach from the center across the aisles, but it will be hard for him to claim the 96% after a week where he distinguished himself by calling PARK Geun-hye and meeting LEE Myung-bak.

6) If LEE Jae-myung gained momentum during the mass demonstrations, his controversial, Trump-style temperament undermines his candidacy. Should he leave the leading trio by the end of next month, his chances would be very slim.

7) It seems that whatever PARK Won-soon says or does, he can't rise in the polls. The Seoul mayor positioned himself as a reformer and an innovator, and counts on the inauguration of Seoul Station 7017 to feed the buzz, but his craze for media attention, very efficient at the local and international levels, tends to backfire at the national level.
8) The third man could turn out to be a different AHN than last time: AHN Cheol-soo did build a political base, but the democratic tsunami reshuffled the whole deck, and ACS is not as inspiring as he initially looked. AHN Hee-jung starts apparently without any base, but he's perfectly leveraging that freedom, and judging by its PR campaign and his no-nonsense, anti-populist positions, he can claim both conservatives and reformers. A convincing interview with Chosun Ilbo, followed by a praising editorial from Maeil Business Newspaper the day before he announced, and he put himself at the center of the map, making LEE Jae-myung's announcement almost inaudible.

As MOON Jae-in flies, BAN Ki-moon stagnates, and the LEE Jae-myung bubble deflates, AHN Hee-jung gains positive reviews for his Chosun interview - 20170122 -

If by end of February, polls show AHN Hee-jung closer to - or even part of - the top 3, he stands a clear chance. The weeks to come will clearly test MOON's grip on the lead, and BAN's capacity to reset his campaign.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Handover Hangover

The unenthusiastic saehaebokmanibadeuseyos that evaporated as early as January 2nd, the post-truth / pre-Trump gloom / doom, the neverending Park-Choi-Woo drama*...

Korea seems to be dragging her feet into the young year, but I also see a lot of people taking the leap. And for a change, not only in that most tragic sense of the term.

Yes, this nation missed its momentum, piled up unnecessary crises, and failed to become a true leader while China and others were catching up, eager to follow the new benchmark. Yes, Korea was betrayed by her own leaders, and their fall will even undermine their too few good initiatives (e.g. nurturing creative ecosystems). Yes, no candidate seems to have the leadership qualities required by the moment.

But yes, new leaders are emerging from the bottom up. Sound citizens and entrepreneurs bringing positive social and economic changes across communities. And of course there is the formidable and overwhelmingly non-ideological democratic movement that bloomed over the last months, a new collective conscience and exigence that hopefully will debunk populists as well as other enemies of democracy.

Yes, Korea is in crisis, but that's precisely now that she can become a true leader, if she seizes the moment to redefine a sustainable vision for society, economics, and politics.

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* Park Geun-hye - Choi Soon-sil - Woo Byung-woo (see "Of power vacua and excesses"). Will they all be in jail one year from now? Distressing to see how the 3 topics in last year's first post (see "2016 under the carpet") managed to get even worse since:
- one year ago, Shinzo ABE and PGH agreed to insult history as a tandem, and today the former is recalling his ambo over the latest 'comfort women' row.
- one year ago, KIM Jong-un was playing with nukes, and today he's about to test Trump's control of the red and blue buttons (the blue one's for Tweeter, can you remember that, Don?)
- one year ago, the Korean opposition was fighting over who would be the best leader for the 2017 elections. Today, MOON Jae-in, AHN Cheol-soo, PARK Won-soon and all have to add LEE Jae-myung to their worries, and election day is likely to happen much earlier than scheduled.
... should I continue with time bombs that were bound to explode, yet somehow managed to grow even fatter (e.g. household debt)...? so happy next year! ("Happy New Year 2018" / "Bonne année 2018")

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Don't miss Le Corbusier in Seoul... The artist, not the urban planner!

Voluptuous sculptures, delicate aquarels, explosions of forms and colors...

... frankly, these are not the first things that come to mind when you think Le Corbusier and Seoul. For me, the association rather suggests that radical 1925 Plan Voisin for Paris, where he imagined the destruction of two square miles at the center of the capital to make room for what now looks like your classic Seoul New Town:

This model for Corbu's Plan Voisin (1925) looks like most 2016 mock ups in Seoul new town model houses. And Jeanneret would turn in his grave if he saw how his pilotis are used and abused across the Korean capital...

But mercifully, the not-to-be-missed exhibition at Seoul Arts Center doesn't venture into that particular dimension of Le Corbusier's amazingly prolific mind.

Le Corbusier Special Exhibition
Hangaram Design Museum (
2016.12.06(TUE) - 2017.03.26(SUN) - 11:00-19:00 (MAR 11:00-20:00)
Corbu time. Inauguration of Le Corbusier expo at Seoul Arts Center (With Antoine Picon - 20161206 -
If I braced for something big, I certainly didn't expect anything that overwhelming. This isn't an exhibition, but a full art museum devoted to a bulimic absorber of cultural influences, encompassing almost all forms of art, architecture being almost reduced to a pleasant background music, flowing naturally as the artist's lightest composition.

Many works have never been exhibited, and this prefigures an actual Le Corbusier museum in a much wider way than say last year's retrospective in Paris... even if the poster looks familiar (and even if, somehow, that one also struck a musical chord):

The weird music of architecture: these days you can play Le Corbusier on a Renzo Piano - Centre Pompidou, Paris (20150707 -

Flanking commissioner and Ronchamp expert Daniele Pauly, Ambassadors Linus von Castelmur (Switzerland) and Fabien Penone (France). Special mention to the former for elegantly mentioning in his opening speech even the most controversial sides of Corbu, as all nations and the UNESCO celebrate his cultural impact*

Many of Corbu artworks echo great artists (Picasso, Braque, Schiele..), but I have a weakness for this almost childish 'Paysage parisien imaginaire' (1917) - a dream-nightmare-ish view of Paname blended with Istanbul, with a contrast between colorful life and dark death (hanged man, war plane, constrained ships...)

Significantly, the artist is most celebrated as a great architect in a colorless, side space, under the eyes of Tadao Ando.

C for Corbu - Le Corbusier in Seoul (20161206 -

Anyway, don't you dare miss this major event. And if you happen to pass by Paris, don't miss his appartement-atelier, which literally speaks volume about the man*.
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* via La Fondation Le Corbusier's website -

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Of power vacua and excesses

As expected (see "The Fall Of The House Of Park"), there's a de facto power vacuum in South Korea, where President PARK Geun-hye, plagued by the CHOI Soon-sil scandal, is every day more unlikely to finish her mandate.

The Korean people is quasi unanimous, and honored this nation's democracy through the most massive and perfect demonstration in the heart of Seoul.

If ever the stubborn PGH doesn't seem ready to step down, it's basically a matter of how and when. The opposition demands an immediate resignation, which would allow MOON Jae-in, AHN Cheol-soo, and PARK Won-soon to run, and what's left of the ruling party would prefer an impeachment that would take much more time, and allow BAN Ki-moon to join the race

The Saenuri implosion was already acted when the pro-Park faction confirmed its lock on the party, months ago. And such conservative media as Chosun Ilbo and Joongang Ilbo / JTBC are playing active roles in exposing scandals as they come.

Beyond CHOI Soon-sil and PARK Geun-hye, the case of WOO Byung-woo could turn out to be the most crucial for the future of South Korea democracy, because it exposes corruption at the core of justice. Judging by the doubts surrounding the former prosecutor's own prosecutors, it won't be easily done.

I often worry about the fragile balance of powers in South Korea (for instance in 2012 - see "25 years later"). And that essential dimension of democracy must be reaffirmed now that democracy itself is struggling across the globe.

Without waiting for the next lame duck to claim Cheong Wa Dae, the Asia Pacific region is celebrating the arrival of yet another controversial leader with a questionable vision of democracy: this scary motley crew (KIM Jong-un, Vladimir PUTIN, Shinzo ABE, Narendra MODI, XI Jinping, Rodrigo DUTERTE...) welcomes Donald TRUMP, who will soon have an access to both the nuclear and the POTUS twitter account codes. 

What could possibly go wrong?

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Fall Of The House Of Park

When PARK Geun-hye was elected, I seriously wondered "who won the elections?", and "if she's running her own show" (see "The Anipang Election: Park wins big, but who won?").

Back then, I was mostly thinking about the potential influence of such political cliques as die-hard PARK Chung-hee loyalists, revisionists she never truly distanciated herself from. I had no clue about her dependence to the guru dynasty CHOI Tae-min - CHOI Soon-sil.

That didn't come as a surprise in a nation where so many charlatans gravitate around powerful people, exploiting their weaknesses as easily as they do with 'commoners', only with greater reward.

And in Korea, when the gimchi hits the fan, it can get so grossly messy that you often feel like crying and laughing out loud at the same time (ICYMI read T.K.'s scarily hillarious summary on the CHOI Soon-sil scandal "The Irrational Downfall of Park Geun-hye" - 20161029).

This quasi legally incapacitated president simply has to step down. But this morning, if PARK agreed on inquieries, she was still in denial of being under influence.

She appointed a ROH Moo-hyun-friendly PM, KIM Byeong-joon, and a KIM Dae-jung-friendly Chief of Staff, Han Gwang-ok, to take care of a good part of the business... if not to put some pressure on the opposition, and to welcome them on board her sinking vessel.

By doing that, she also potentially forges a direct competitor to MOON Jae-in and AHN Cheol-soo for next year's presidential elections. Meanwhile, PARK Won-soon tries to seize the president's political suicide as swiftly as he did for his predecessor in Seoul City Hall OH Se-hoon, and to make the most of the few weeks remaining before BAN Ki-moon can declare himself.

One thing seems sure: if the UNSG runs, it won't be under the Saenuri banner. The name was chosen by CHOI Soon-sil, and the party is bound to implode following this latest twist in the destructive pro-anti-Park tug of war.

So much for PARK Geun-hye's heritage. And beyond that, for her family's legacy.

PARK Chung-hee didn't have the guts to terminate the CHOI Tae-min imposture in its infancy, and ever since, his daughter and her siblings have paid the price. Now this family mess has contaminated the whole nation.

Here's how, four years ago, I concluded my remarks on PGH's election: "It's up to her (or to the people who drive the vehicle) to decide where to lead the nation, and what kind of final legacy she wants her family to leave. Let's see how this blank page evolves. And how history is being written. Including and particularly the past, in school textbooks."
And timely, school textbooks tainted by CHOI's fingerprints have just be confirmed*...

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* see "Protesting 'Soon-sil textbook'" (The Korea Times 20161103)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sustainable and Smart Tourism in Korea - a SWOT analysis

My presentation at last week's 2016 Sustainable and Smart Tourism Forum can be downloaded there. As the title suggest, "Sustainable and Smart Tourism in Korea - a SWOT analysis", provides an overview of Korea's Strenghts, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats regarding this hopefully future-proof approach of tourism. It starts with simple definitions, and a focus on the 'Korean Wave Dependence' that illustrates how a cultural asset can become a liability*.

Thank you again, Catherine GERMIER-HAMEL, for organizing the event, and best wishes to all participants, particularly to the younger generations of innovators in sustainable solutions.  

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* that section echoes my 2013 presentation at the first World Congress for Hallyu, "Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave" (Part I, Part II, Part III). 

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