Meet ‘North Korean‘ rock star Rhee
Music-installation exhibition brings imaginary NK star to life
By Noh Hyun-gi
If there was a punk rocker in North Korea, what would he be like? What would he sing about and where would he perform? Oh Do-ham and Park Jun-chul, members of rock band Pablov, turned these questions into an art show and invited 10 local artists to impersonate their versions of a fictitious rock star named Rhee Sung-wung at the Art Sonje Center in Jongno, central Seoul.
“North Korean Punk Rocker Rhee Sung-wung” is a combination of a concert and an art exhibition. It showcases a stage for the participating bands as installation pieces. On three nights — March 23, March 27 and April 13 — the musicians will perform.
Oh and Park won the Center’s Open Call 2012, an annual competition that allows the finalist to direct a show. “We have never curated an exhibition before. We were drunk and couldn’t stop talking about a rock musician in North Korea,” said Oh, “We wanted to give him the coolest and the most heroic name ever, thus the name Rhee Sung-wung.” Despite their flimsy description, two performances at the press preview on Thursday spoke volumes.
Ryu Ji-won of blues duo the Alligators sang “Fell in Love on Guard Duty” on a piano. As Rhee, Ryu lamented about the memory of making love to a girl for the first time at a mandatory military camp. “I asked a defector who helped us through this project, and he confessed that a lot of adolescents hook up during guard duty at the camp,” Ryu explained. Rhyming about erections and guard duty, this mellow version of Rhee garnered enthusiastic applause as he bounced across the piano on his behind and continued to bounce off the stage.
Dan Pyeong-son, a solo rocker, roared “The Day I Become Human” in a black “hanbok,” or Korean traditional attire for mourning. “You-know-who passed away and so I thought I would hold a funeral at the opening tomorrow wearing this,” mumbled the nonchalant musician with long hair.
Other pieces or performances tell interesting narratives as well. Bam Sun Pirates, a punk duo, will perform in a jailhouse with objects such as “Kim Jong-il’s car sex” video or t-shirts ridiculing the deceased former leader displayed as prosecutors’ exhibits. “These musicians believe Rhee would end up behind bars for singing songs and making props ridiculing the ‘Dear Leader,’” Park explained. The story brings to mind the recent incident when Park Jeong-keun, a photographer, was arrested for retweeting or reposting messages of the communist regime’s Twitter account.
All bands recorded their numbers for the show, and Oh and Park plan to smuggle the CDs across the Yalu River come June when the water level is high and the security lax. “We actually wanted to release the CDs this month, but the North tightened up security after the death (of Kim Jong-il).” They will get help from a defector who has been selling bootleg DVDs of South Korean dramas across the Tumen River.