In a quiet neighborhood of Nowon-gu, Seoul, extraordinary projections of dystopian worlds abound, casting the human race as victims of our own progress. The Seoul Photography Festival 2018, titled Brave New World, reinterprets Aldous Huxley’s 1932 seminal novel in new contexts, considering subversive, destructive, and constructive powers of recent technological development, modernization and other social phenomena.
In one corner, a series of photographs depicts gentle clouds swirling into a menacing tornado; in another, fires rage amidst an impenetrable fog. In other parts of the exhibition, we see a lone fisherman, nomadic people, black-and-white photographs of families. Perhaps there is a truth to these visions. Where are we headed, with our endless consumption, engrossment with technology and fervent pursuit of pleasure and desire?
Yet it would be a mistake to read the photographs in the exhibition strictly as messages of doom and destruction. These works are naturally ambiguous, abounding with diverse interpretations. For example, pictures of bright green birds in Yoshinori Mizutani’s Tokyo Parrots hang opposite images of raging fire in Rinko Kawauchi’s Untitled. There is no sense of time or place in the former’s photographs—are these birds “survivors”, or symbols of new life and hope? With various installations intersecting, opposing or hanging next to each other, it is interesting to pause in the spaces between them and ponder the contrasts and juxtapositions that arise.
Other works include the otherworldly landscapes of Zhang Kechun, the abstract chaos of Noh Suntag’s Drought, and the wandering communities in Kitra Cahana’s photographs. A particularly striking series is Hatakeyama’s Blast / Sequence, which captures in slow-motion the strangely cathartic explosion of otherwise unremarkable fragments of rock and debris, meditating on the return of man-made architectural structures into nature’s dust.
The Seoul Photography Festival has its main site at the Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, with smaller exhibitions at SEMA Storage, ARTNINE and Platform Changdong 61, and runs till February 2019.
Note: The Buk-Seoul Museum of Art is a short walk from Hagye or Junggye Station. It is not the Seoul Museum of Art near City Hall.