On the second floor of the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) in central Seoul is a “boutique” for fictional shoe brand “PROTO NATION.” It is a new work by German artist Henrike Naumann for the ongoing Seoul Mediacity Biennale.
At a glance, the black and white space in minimalist style with pumps and boots on display stands looks like a real shoe shop. But a closer look reveals that many of the shoes are difficult to put on, as one pair of pumps has ceramic salt and pepper shakers as its heels and another pair is tied together with an oversized belt.
The pieces might remind art lovers of early Surrealist works that created the uncanny through unexpected combinations of objects. But, unlike those works, “PROTO NATION” has sociopolitical connotations as suggested by a video in the “boutique.” The video, in the stereotypical format of fashion ads, shows images of the North Korean elite’s fashion along with text such as “ARDUOUS MARCH,” “ETHNIC NATIONALISM” and “KOREAN WAVE.”