UW News

October 16, 2003

Henry exhibit lets visitors sing out loud, sing out strong (in private)

Imagine a sleek, sports car-like contraption into which you can climb, sinking into a soft leather seat in a semi-reclining position. Pull the hatch down over you, don some earphones and choose a song from a list provided. Now turn on the selected song, grab the microphone next to you and sing your heart out while viewing a video on a small screen in front of you.

Once inside the pod, the viewer can sing while viewing a video.

Are you embarrassed yet? No need to be. Although there are small windows in the contraption allowing others to see your face, it is soundproof. No one can hear you sing. There are three such contraptions on campus — called pods — and they’re available for use as part of an exhibit at the Henry Art Gallery.

Live Forever, as the exhibit is called, officially opens on Saturday, Oct. 18. Created by a Korean artist named Lee Bul, it’s really an extension of the karaoke craze as it plays out in South Korea. Unlike the American version, in which people are expected to croon out lyrics in front of a bunch of strangers in a bar, Koreans “rent out very small karaoke rooms and sing with a close group of friends,” said Pamela Meredith, assistant curator at the Henry. “Lee is just taking it one step further and making it a very private experience.”

Each of the three pods offers a slightly different experience. Though all are white fiberglass on the outside, the interiors are in different colors and have different videos and song lists.

The orange leather pod features love songs and a video of young Korean girls playing in a park in their school uniforms. The intent, Meredith says, is to “evoke some of the stereotypes of the sweet, innocent Asian woman.”

The black leather pod features a playlist of songs about traveling, such as California Dreamin’ by the Mamas and Papas. Its video is of couples dancing in the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, where tourists and traveling business people mix. And the blue leather pod accompanies a video of speeding down the freeway with songs such as Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.

When someone is in a pod, the video that they see is also projected on a large screen mounted on the wall of the gallery, as are the printed song lyrics. And in addition to the pods themselves, visitors can go to another room and see a pink Styrofoam prototype of the pods and Lee’s schematic drawings from her first idea to the final execution. The pods evolved from standup booths looking something like the old isolation booths from quiz shows to their present incarnation that permits a more relaxing experience.

The daughter of a longtime left-wing political dissident, Lee began her artistic career in the late 1980s, when feminism was just emerging in South Korea. She at first made provocative soft sculptures, but in the late ’90s her principal theme became the human body and technology and she made silicone and white porcelain sculptures of bodies, often with missing parts. Then, in 1999, she became interested in karaoke.

“This show has been traveling around the country since 2000,” Meredith said. “At other venues, viewers have found the experience so much fun that word of mouth brings in lots of people. We expect that to happen here.”

If it does, be prepared to wait for a pod and to have your time inside limited so that others can have a turn. But then, you can always return. The exhibit will be open until Jan. 11. And if you’d like to get some extra insights on the art, you can attend an art dialogue featuring Music History Professor Larry Starr, a specialist in the popular song, on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.

Admission to the Henry is always free with ID for faculty and staff. However, if you’d like to attend the opening party, set for 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17, you’ll pay $8 ($10 general admission). For further information call 206-543-2280 or consult the Web site, http://www.henryart.org.