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Music as a conduit to politics is a tricky proposition. Behind the authentic creativity and resonance of song is music as an industry—cultural meaning as both salient and salable. LACE’s Take My Money/Take My Body examines geopolitics through the lens of popular music emerging from the phenomenon of K-pop: prefab girl and boy bands engendering a neo-Beatlemania in South Korea and, increasingly, all points West. Take My Money/Take My Body employs a wide array of artists and nationalities to illustrate a wildly overextended thesis—the press text liberally intertwines music, money, power, geopolitics, and the fractal presence of selfhood within all four.
K-pop is the curatorial entry point, as in Olivia Campbell’s cardboard cutouts of smartphone-clutching pop fans. From here, the exhibition moves on to more classically disturbing themes of war, colonialism, and the corporate economy of both. Jiwon Choi’s video work Parallel (2017) examines, in part, the deep contradictions inherent in power and national identity. Choi zeroes in at one point on former South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s clothing color schemes, intercutting news footage of Geun-hye with K-pop performances and public appearances. Elsewhere, Levi Orta’s video Singing Alone (2014) features heads of state—including Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chávez, and Bill Clinton—singing, often amateurishly, at celebratory national events. Song—national anthem or otherwise—as a tool of political persuasion is the ostensible subtext here, as is an oblique nod to the notion that fame needn’t require talent.
From this anxiety the exhibition moves to dread. Ahmet Öğüt’s untitled video (2016-17) features plaintive instructions on what to do in the event of a tear gas attack. A series of parcels on the gallery floor by Gelare Khoshgozaran (U.S. Customs Demands to Know, 2016-ongoing) glow with either alluring light or destructive radiation.
Take My Money/Take My Body’s onslaught of compromised imagery—whether the artistic context—is in kind with everyday experience, and sometimes as numbing. Another clip of Choi’s video features the artist’s grandfather recounting the horrors of internment during the Korean War. To hear a survivor’s story, plainspoken and plainly filmed, undercuts the chaotic yet mediated realm from which the exhibition takes its starting point, simply by virtue of being unadorned. The phenomena investigated in Take My Money/Take My Body (both the pop sensationalism and the tragedy of war) come off as awfully familiar, or as a familiar kind of awful.
Take My Money/Take My Body runs January 3–February 24, 2019 at LACE (6522 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028)