"What is Koreanness?" South Korean artist Eui-Jip Hwang asked himself. He realized that, for him, it was very much driven by appearance, especially idealized European standards, which create the illusion of perfect beauty. Wanting to subvert the country's cult of beauty in a satirical way, Hwang researched and collected images of celebrities, plastic surgeon sample portfolios, and advertisements from the beauty industry, particularly before-and-after advertisements for plastic surgery, then collaged them to create the new media art project, Live Your Dream.
Hwang tells Creators that a big influence on the project is South Korea's internet connectivity, amongst the fastest in the world and ubiquitous, even in subways. This pervasive state internet propagates Korean culture, and he says the most common online advertising is created by the plastic surgery industry. Meanwhile, the most consumed images are of celebrities whose appearances lean more toward Western ideals of beauty. Another critical ingredient to the project is that the beauty industry now markets skincare and makeup products to males.
"I started noticing Koreans replacing Caucasian models in the growing number of advertisements today, and Korean corporations now embrace Korean faces to advertise their products," says Hwang. "Through self-care and beauty-enhancing procedures, they now possess the ideal beauty that can provide profits and achieve a premium image of a brand for the upcoming global markets. Without a surgery or an application of cosmetics, the society collectively agrees that you are not the product of modern Korea."
After collecting the images for Live Your Dream, Hwang began collaging and processing them in Photoshop. In some images, he extends the face so that it blurs the head's shape. For him, it is a way to strip the face of ownership so that it is no longer any specific person, but a more generalized South Korean. And the point is that it, whether male or female—it could be anyone.
"It becomes a mask and even makes me think of a face transplant which can be the next big thing in plastic surgery," says Hwang. "In fact, the work entitled European Hazel is a very good example of why the work may be regarded as a plastic surgery sample in Korea."
Hwang believes that interpretations of Live Your Dream will vary by country. In fact, he has already experienced a variety of reactions from fellow artists, specifically in the United States.
"The beauty standard of men is so stagnant and different, [so] the idea of men grooming and with makeup will be viewed as homosexual," Hwang notes. "They will engage in broader discussion about gender and sexuality."
Hwang, who does not intend to exhibit his work, believes that his home country will eventually and unknowingly appropriate his Live Your Dream images, making them samples for ideal Korean beauty. In effect, these photographic satires of advertising will become advertisements—part of Korea's collective beauty-driven dream.
Click here to see more images from Live Your Dream and Eui-Jip Hwang's other multimedia artwork.