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ICYMI: the Korean wave is real. The past few decades have seen the global arts, culture, and technology spheres won over — nay, dominated — by Korean creativity and innovation. Whether it’s cornering the pop culture conversation with productions from Squid Game to BTS’ “Butter,” providing The Frame on which to display our NFTs, or sweeping the Oscars — the country has not lacked for voices and talents that are actively and vividly coloring in its cultural profile.

And now, there’s Korea: Cubically Imagined, an exhibition spotlighting the nation’s leading creatives in 17 tech-powered installations, further boosting Korea’s presence on the cultural landscape. Masterminded by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of the Korean Government, the touring showcase opens this week in New York and will travel to Washington D.C. on May 27. Its American launches follow its openings in cities including Beijing, Moscow, and Paris.

Included in Cubically Imagined are two digital installations by the National Museum of Korea, featuring historical paintings animated with motion capture technology. Image: Korea: Cubically Imagined

“A key objective of the exhibition is to integrate traditional and contemporary Korean culture, along with cutting-edge technologies, to showcase a new phase of hallyu [Korean wave] to a global audience,” Young-joon Namkoung, Senior Manager of KOCCA’s Global Business Division, tells Jing Culture & Commerce.

And indeed, as KOCCA intended, Cubically Imagined offers a blend of what he terms “flagship Korean content” and up-and-coming design studios that are reimagining how art and technology intersect. There’s a XR experience of BTS’ 2020 Map of the Soul ON:E concert, a digital gallery by the National Museum of Korea that immerses audiences in animations of two historic paintings, and a VR art film based on Bong Joon-ho’s cinematic triumph Parasite. But included here too are works by studios and artists such as d’strict, Design Silverfish, and YeSeung LEE, whose respective installations leverage new media technologies from AR to projection mapping.

Korea: Cubically Imagined

A XR experience of BTS’ Map of the Soul ON:E concert allows visitors to explore every angle and corner of the performance through VR headsets. Image: Korea: Cubically Imagined

However diverse its contents, the exhibition is unified by the element of immersion. As Namkoung notes, “Immersive installations are a rising new genre in the cultural sphere” — and Cubically Imagined duly captures how Korean creatives are enriching the field alongside (and even beyond) their Western counterparts.

Take d’strict, a design innovator that’s been pushing the virtual envelope. At Cubically Imagined, it’s showcasing two immersive installations, FLOWER and JUNGLE, created with Unreal Engine using real-time rendering technology. These experiences have been ported from Arte Museum, a permanent venue in Jeju run by d’strict, which also happens to be Korea’s largest immersive media museum (you might recognize it from its viral façade). Within it are arrayed d’strict’s original and nature-inspired digital installations, some of which are visitor-responsive and deeply interactive.

But as Sungho Lee, Management Strategy Director at d’strict, emphasizes, “The technology itself is not so important. The creativity and idea [behind these installations] are the important factors for us.” While he sees the immersive realm developing with finer hardware and software, the point of these advancements, he tells us, is ultimately to create for visitors “realistic virtual experiences.”

Korea: Cubically Imagined

d’strict’s FLOWER and JUNGLE digital installations were ported from the studio’s Arte Museum in Jeju, which is themed “Eternal Nature.” Image: Korea: Cubically Imagined

For d’strict, which has plans to launch Arte Museum stateside (it’s already locked down a site in Las Vegas), Cubically Imagined offers the opportunity to test global waters on the one hand and to spread the word on its work on the other. And it’s the latter cause that’s similarly motivating the exhibition itself — notably, it opened at the tail-end of lockdowns and as inbound tourism to the country has plummeted from a height of 17.5 million in 2019 to 0.97 million last year. As KOCCA has further noted in promotional materials, its goals for the show are cultivating innovation as much as establishing “a mutual network for future collaboration.”

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For a country that has long staked its global presence on soft power, it makes sense for an exhibition to once more bank on its art and popular culture to reanimate visitor interest in a post-lockdown climate. At the same time, Cubically Imagined, as it merges Korean heritage with innovation, also effectively carves out what tomorrow’s Korean wave might look like — one that is not just tech-ready, but tech-forward.

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