Today’s society is aging at a rapid pace. This aging society with a large elderly population which, ironically, is also continually encouraging youth, considers aging as being like a piece of old gum that has lost its sweetness. It is notable from many commercials of cosmetic products and medical procedures that show societal pressure to try and stay looking young. In this society where people are forced to try to stay looking young, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) went to the exhibition Youth Before Age, which runs until November 9th, to reconsider the real meaning of youth and aging.
Basic Information about Youth
Before Age Youth Before Age is a special international exhibition for the second half of 2019 hosted by the Coreana Museum of Art. The exhibition is held on the first and the second basement of Space*c. Space*c is a culture complex with museums of cosmetics and art operated by Coreana Cosmetics. In this exhibition, people can reconsider the meaning of youth of our aging society through various artworks created by 13 local and foreign contemporary artists of different ages, ranging from the 20s to 70s. In this exhibition, those artists feature various experimental artworks to redefine the meaning of youth which is already fixed by social stereotypes. There are a variety of photographs, videos, and installation art-works, including the performance work on the second basement floor which requires the audience’s participation. Their works commonly consider youth as a more extended concept, asking if it is right to distinguish youth only by age. They also convey the message that youth is a relative thing.
Overall Introduction of Works
Exhibitions are divided into two main categories. First, some works criticize the obsession with youth. Sanja Ivekovi, a 70-years-old artist representing Eastern Europe, shows her worries as an older woman in a society where youth is forced, in the video pieces Introduction #1 and Introduction #2. In these two videos, she criticizes and satirizes this society by comparing her youthful face and the older face after 40 years as a canvas. In each video, the woman rubs her face following the arrow on her face, which is a direction of the massaging that women usually do to try and help her stay looking young. Contrary to the purpose of the massage, however, the arrows are erased and stained, making her face even worse. From here, the audience can see that the desire for staying youthful and the pressure for a beautiful appearance will be repeated in their lifetime.
There are also various works about conflicts between generations. As the age range of the people who make up society expands, conflicts between generations are naturally occurring. Movie director John Byron showed messages about the prejudice between the generations that are easily seen today with a short but meaningful movie Mind the Gap. There are an older man and a young man who are conscious of each other but hesitate to talk to each other. The older man has the courage to speak to the young man, but the young man’s headphones drown out the older man. On the contrary, the older man’s hearing aid impedes the young man attempting to speak later. This film criticizes the prevalent ageism in modern society by showing that conflicts between generations are easily caused by hasty judgements and small misunderstandings about each other. Ageism is a discriminatory idea and attitude that deprives and marginalizes an individual’s opportunity just because of their age. Therefore, Mind the Gap is meaningful work that causes the audience to think about the boundary between young and old age.
Youth Is Not Always the Same as Age
Korea is swiftly passing through an aged society and is expected to become a super-aged society by 2026 where the population of people aged 65 or older exceeds 20 percent of the total. As some people get older, however, they do not accept aging as something natural but rather look at it unfavorably and crave for infinite youth. They feel relieved by following the socially stereotyped standard of the youth through various aesthetic cares and consumption. Therefore, this exhibition can be a great opportunity for people to think about the meaning of youth and aging.
Some works provoke self-reflection on whether audiences are unwittingly internalizing the social stereotypes. In particular, Folder: Jikkbakguri #Youth by Juen Ji-in can be the best example of this. She carved some negative proverbs about youth on an acrylic mirror. From here, audiences can reflect on themselves as to whether they tacitly agree with the negative convention of aging by looking at themselves reflected in the mirror.
Also, skating performance artwork Unbalance by Ga-ram Kim can be an opportunity for the audiences to think about the meaning of their youth by riding an unmatched pair of roller skates. Since this wrongly matched pair of roller skate expresses youth with the characteristics of anxiety and imbalance, this experience can have a big impact on the youth who live with a lot of worries. After skating, the audiences can also talk with the artist and share the meaning of their youth.
As aging is progressing rapidly in our society, the meaning of youth should be redefined. Unlike age, which is an absolute number, the meaning of youth can vary depending on one’s thinking. How about thinking about Kingo’s own personal interpretation of youth through Youth Before Age?
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