photonics, very high heels                      Son Bong Chae Dream Growing Tree

Very High Heel                                                     “SPlit Tree” — Son Bong Chae

Jet Ski Performers, pre-show

Jet Ski Performers, pre-show

May 2010 Gwangju News

The World Photonics Expo, (April 2 to May 9) which was postponed due to Swine Flu, turned out a huge success and was spread over three large venues in Gwangju for the opening ceremonies on Friday April 9.  Thousands of light and music lovers crowded the Cultural Center/Provincial Square to see major KPOP stars and French artist Alain Guilhot’s salute to the ever-expanding use of lights.  His work included slides, dancing neon lasers, and references to other performances both historical and contemporary.

Fireworks went off over trees along Guenamno and “Wedding Shop Street” that had eye-catching lights that lured those who may have otherwise been casually heading home after work on a Friday.  Once taken in, the surprises kept coming as Guilhot, who also served as the artistic director of the Expo, created a tour-de-force art piece that surpassed even the music stars that had the schoolgirls screaming, as if the Beatles had arrived circa 1965.

Light displays also ran up and down the river, and, out in Sangmu, Citizen’s Park, which was lightly attended probably due to the magnificence of the downtown offerings, also hosted an opening show that included water stunts, a 3-D movie, LED artworks, amazing simulations by the Republic of Korea Air Force and the first-ever Korean display of the REAL Soyuz spacecraft.

The huge park also includes live performance stages, and a science-learning experience that makes the study of light fun for any age.

The ticket price of 12,000 Won may be high for some, but 13-18 year-olds can get in for 9000, and 4-12 year olds are 4000, while disabled people, those over 65, or under 4, and those with distinguished service to the state all get free admission.

With so much to do, this may be the best bargain in the history of Sangmu.

For me the 18 art rooms were fascinating.  It was great to see Ahn Ju Ya again, as his art uses the LED medium to accentuate fantasies would be rich in color even without lights.  “Life Story,” covers many themes in less than ten works, and shows why Ahn is one of the leading-edge artists that is propelling Korea to the forefront of photonic art.

Song Bong Chae’s “Dream Growing Tree” achieves three dimensional success in painstaking detail, by repeating the same Zelkova tree on many polycarbonate panels.  The result is part sculpture part landscape, and stopped viewers for an extra long visit.  The artist hoped people would “look back on their past, and cherish new hopes,” while looking at this work, and, judging by the time spent, there was time for all of that, and more.

One room  “the Abyss – Dark Chamber” was pitch-black but you are handed a small flashlight to see what Shin Yang Ho made.  The sign billed the room as rated a +19 and inappropriate for young viewers, and the flashlights allowed only small areas of the anthropologically correct human figures to be seen.  Shin calls it a “dramatic feast created by the human body,” and the flashlights kept anyone from being overwhelmed by such a thing.

Other notable rooms included  Lee Lee Nam’s “Light of Sharing” in which he recreated masterpieces in humorous ways, a Mr. Potato-Head Batman robot, and the wonderful effects of 3-D by Kim Jin Hwa that reminded me of the later work of Al Held:  elongated checkerboards spiraling deep down and away from the viewers, again thanks to photonics.

Not to be outdone, further pavilions included a Light Science Experience stop, and Light Industry and Technology pavilion that reminded me of the “rides” set up at Orlando Florida’s Epcot Center, in which industrial giants like Kraft and General Motors display their latest inventions.  In this case, the Photonics industries of Gwangju held forth with laser displays, LED wizardry, Optical instruments, and my favorite part of the Photonics world, photovoltaic solar cells.

These cells, now becoming part of a worldwide effort to create electricity that causes no carbon or nuclear pollution, can actually be sprayed into place on rough burlap-style fabric that is housed in boxes facing the sun (south is best in most cases).  Photovoltaic cells convert sun rays directly into electricity.  This is one step further than the normal water-heating method of solar power that is effective for heating water and homes, but not so good at creating electricity.  “Photovoltaic production has been doubling every 2 years, increasing by an average of 48 percent each year since 2002, making it the world’s fastest-growing energy technology,” reports

Wikipedia (

While for many the 30 Billion Won spent on this event meant a chance to see and hear their favorite KPOP stars in downtown Gwangju, for others it was an event full of the achievements made in Photonics, either as a charming art device, scientific catalyst or important alternative energy, that one day may become the world’s number one creator of energy.  The goal of the World Photonics Expo was more than as a science trade show, but meant to show how photonics can be an economic stimulator, entertainer and energy resource.

The money was clearly well spent, and one hopes that, even though the event had to be postponed, future Expos will increase the number of visitors from out-of-town and out-of-country.  As the Asian Cultural Center gets closer and closer to completion, Gwangju is preparing to add to its already impressive line-up of festivals.  Get ready for a World Music Festival in August, and the Asian Culture Forum in September, as a supplement to the Gwangju Biennale.


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