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Ulsan Art Museum brings wealth of culture to industrial city

Ulsan Art Museum located in Jung-gu, Ulsan (Ulsan Art Museum)
Ulsan Art Museum located in Jung-gu, Ulsan (Ulsan Art Museum)
ULSAN -- Located in southeastern South Korea, Ulsan is synonymous with the country‘s industrialization. The city is home to the world’s largest automobile plant and driving through the port of Ulsan, Hyundai cars preparing to be exported on ships are hard to miss.

Some 307 kilometers from Seoul, the city has opened its first art museum in the eastern part of the city -- a museum that specializes in media art.

Five inaugural exhibitions are currently running, including the main exhibition titled “Post Nature: Dear Nature,” which sheds light on how human and non-humans can live in solidarity.

“After the transition from an agrarian society to an industrial society, Ulsan’s ecosystem was extensively exploited for economic development. The exhibition reminds us of the ecosystem that accompanies a complicated sense of history and cultural policy,” Suh Jin-suk, Ulsan Art Museum director, said at a press conference on Wednesday. 

“Reverie Reset” by Yan Lei (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)
“Reverie Reset” by Yan Lei (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)
The large-scale installation “Reverie Reset” by Chinese media artist Yan Lei at the entrance of the exhibition is composed of 80 digital displays revolving around in a circle. The structure is the artist’s attempt at showing the composition and intersection of images through a computer system and network technology.

“This is the Future,” an installation piece by the Berlin-based media artist Hito Steyerl, is part of the main exhibition. The work with nine projection screens was shown at the 2019 Venice Biennale and is now part of the museum‘s collection.

The digital plants on the nine screens have Latin names meaning “social media addiction therapy,” “healing of the syndrome of being silent about hate speech,” and “dictator poisoning” and grow on construction scaffolding. 

“Turtle” by Paik Nam-june (Ulsan Art Museum)
“Turtle” by Paik Nam-june (Ulsan Art Museum)
Media art pioneer Paik Nam-june’s “Forest of Cage, Revelation of the Forest” is also shown at the museum with 23 TV sets installed on the ground floor showing images and fragmented scenes of the avant-garde musician John Cage’s art performances.

The museum’s permanent collection also includes Paik‘s “Turtle” and ”Sistine Chapel,“ which were acquired in August 2021 from different owners. A total of 29 media art works are currently in the museum’s permanent collection. 

“Chroma” by Kim Yun-chul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)
“Chroma” by Kim Yun-chul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)
As the country’s first media art museum, Suh aims to develop the museum‘s identity by holding exhibitions that explore how technology and nature can coexist, discovering and inviting artists who speak about nature and ecology.

“Touching on the issue of nature and technology together has been prevalent globally with many seminars and exhibitions. We will strengthen the identity of the museum by reflecting the city’s locality and bringing global trends at the same time,” Suh said.

Another exhibition running at the museum is “Black and Light: Aldo Tambellini” on display at XR Lab, an exhibition space dedicated to immersive media art experiences created with the latest digital technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. The exhibition features media art works by Tambellini, an Italian-American media artist who was a pioneer in media expansion in the 1960s. 

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