Society portrayed in media art

2014-04-03 19:57

Some 40 Chinese workers stride into a pond, form a line in the middle dividing it into two parts, then shortly after disperse, walking freely in the water. This odd performance is found in a scene from a 1997 video by Zhang Huan of China.

His video is among the diverse media artwork by 24 international artists currently on view at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art.

The exhibits satirically, critically or sometimes humorously depict today’s political and social problems. Zhang intends to “raise the water level in a fishpond” by having male workers go into it. The workers’ performance expresses their dedication to a state project to build a modern China, according to Haily Grenet, a curator of the exhibit.
A still image from the film “To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond” by Zhang Huan. (Total Museum)

The exhibition is the first edition of the travelling media art festival “Utopian Days.” Jointly prepared by French, German and Korean curators, it explores the “traditional boundaries of visual contemporary culture.”

Some works feature extreme performances as if the performers long for “freedom of action” rather than giving answers to social and political reality.

Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh for a year recorded himself waking up every hour to stamp a time card like a worker does upon entering work in the morning. Played fast, the video shows his one-year ordeal in a six-minute clip. But his long hair and tired face indicate the immense stress he underwent from not being able to sleep fully for a year.

“Through the work of artists who present different possibilities to be free, the exhibition highlights their creative impulse and independence of mind,” said Grenet.

Another interesting video on display made headlines in 2011. Finnish artist Jani Leinonen’s “abduction” of a Ronald McDonald statue is played on screen. Leinoen was a guest artist in the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2009. 
A still image from the film “Food Liberation Army” by Jani Leinonen (Total Museum)

The film features the artist and the self-styled “Food Liberation Army” abducting the Ronald McDonald statue from a McDonald’s in Helsinki and executing him by guillotine in a setting staged to make them look like al-Qaida. The performance, which had the goal to “make the McDonald’s burgers better,” drew millions of clicks on YouTube.

The exhibition “Utopian Days ― Freedom” runs through April 13 at the Total Museum of Contemporary At, Seoul in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul. For more information, visit, or

By Lee Woo-young (