[Viewpoint]High-tech but tone-deaf

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[Viewpoint]High-tech but tone-deaf

On a trip to Expo 2008, being held from June 14 to Sept. 14 in Saragossa, Spain, I got a firsthand look at how many countries around the world are busy investing in culture and the arts. The international exposition is an arena of competition in future-oriented culture, arts and technology. It started in the mid-19th century to exhibit scientific and technical accomplishments. It is now established as an event that demonstrates the common issues of mankind and an opportunity for marketing national brands.

This expo, with the theme “Water and Sustainable Development,” counts 104 countries around the globe among participants. I had to wait for more than two hours to see the popular exhibitions of some advanced countries. I sweated under the hot sun all that time to see the design, art, culture and technology of those countries.

I was curious to know how popular Korea was in Spain, and how the country was branding itself. It was a pity to see there were no people standing in queues to enter the Korean pavilion. People could walk in easily, like at most of the exhibits of poor, developing countries. Korea is known as an international IT power, but it seems it does not communicate well with the world in terms of culture or art.

Needless to say, an exposition is not a place where the level of a country’s culture and arts can be measured comprehensively. However, since the Korean government has been making remarkable investments in information technology-related culture since 2000, I think it is worth checking to see if we are going in the right direction. The government and local autonomous organizations are busily planning small and large international events, including the Yeosu Marine Exposition in 2012, the Seoul Public Design Exposition this fall, and the Incheon International City Festival in 2009. All of these projects have the same goal of creating a new cultural business by combining the latest technology with culture and the arts. However, there are a few things left to be desired in the direction they have taken.

The first is that they are oriented toward technology rather than culture. In the area where technology joins with culture and the arts, we are still caught in the paradigm of giving priority to technology.

Let’s take a look at the Seoul Sangam Digital Media City, for example. The ambitious goal of creating the world’s first IT city in order to actively display Korean IT culture to the world has left us with an unattractive city. Sangam DMC is known as a place where one can see new IT products rather than a spot that offers an experience of new city culture. Even the new IT products are no longer attractions these days, because new technology is continuously being developed and the IT industry as a whole is in a slump.

Technology that does not go hand in hand with the cultural values that people use to live, feel and exchange ideas cannot get a big response from the market anymore.

Under the goal of promoting cultural development, for the past 10 years the Korean government has invested greatly not only in the growth of digital content such as film, animation and games, but also in diverse cultural and artistic activities such as performances and exhibitions. I have no intention to underestimate the government effort since it led to jobs and contributed to cultivation of the people’s emotions. However, it is difficult to say that it succeeded in creating a competitive industrial structure in proportion to the resources it invested.

Different people will evaluate the situation differently, but in this writer’s opinion, the core problem is a lack of understanding of the global market and a strategy about how to approach it. While the market has already expanded to the whole globe, our viewpoint and emotions are still inwardly directed. Folkloric themes staged at the Korean pavilion in Saragossa, such as jeonghansu (a bowl of fresh water) and a woman in white, cannot win the sympathy of non-Koreans.

For our cultural industry to grow, what we desperately need is to train ourselves to have a cross-cultural perspective, not funds and technology. A balanced understanding of our culture and other cultures, and the ability to make our stories interesting to people around the world are the main creative abilities required in the 21st century. I hope there will be a long queue of spectators in front of the Korean pavilion at the next international exposition.

*The writer is a professor of digital art at Seoul Institute of Art. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Roh So-young

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