Summer Research Dispatches: Miyoko Conley on Holograms in K-Pop

15 Aug, 2017

Summer Research Dispatches: Miyoko Conley on Holograms in K-Pop

We were thrilled to offer six BCNM graduate students stipends to pursue their research over the summer of 2017. Below, Miyoko Conley shares how she explored digital fandom from abroad.

My 2017 summer research trip was to Seoul, South Korea, where I looked at hologram technology surrounding K-pop (Korean pop music) to see its relation to liveness, theatrical spaces, and transnational fandom. The trip deepened my research beyond K-pop entertainment by giving me the opportunity to look at physical spaces in Seoul that were configured as digital experiences, emphasizing how Seoul is marketed as a technologically savvy city, by technology and entertainment corporations, and the government. This was seen in both buildings that were solely for the display of technology, and in entertainment companies’ buildings for tourism, which heavily utilized digital technologies. My trip also coincided with the first Seoul Comic Con, a transnational effort from ReedPOP, a company that organizes comic conventions globally.

My research revolved around three main areas. 1) Digital Media City (DMC), a complex for digital technology and media companies, which also contains exhibits for the public that emphasize interaction with technology (such as the DMC Gallery, Digital Pavilion, and MBC World, a Hallyu-oriented tour of MBC broadcasting studios, which utilizes digital imaging, hologram, and VR technology). 2) Gangnam, which is known internationally for Psy’s hit song “Gangnam Style,” but also houses Samsung and many K-pop entertainment companies. This includes SMTOWN Coex Artium, a multimedia, commercial space for SM Entertainment fans, which has a multipurpose theatre for viewings, concerts, and hologram shows. 3) Seoul Comic Con. Though “Comic Con” as a brand tends to focus on American popular culture, due to Seoul’s large animation industry that works with animation studios in many countries, other properties and companies from other countries were also represented. While most of the places I visited were highly commercial, I also did research into the Japanese art group teamLab’s permanent Seoul exhibition, which focuses on body interaction with digital art.

Though initially I wanted to focus on holograms, I realized that the physical spaces and surrounding attractions that utilized holograms were perhaps more important than the singular technology; most of the places I visited were figured as digital complexes, with popular culture playing an integral role in tourism and Seoul’s image as a cosmopolitan city. Also, I noticed that while theaters solely dedicated to K-pop hologram concerts tended to be short-lived, spaces that purported to be more like “theme parks” utilized not only hologram technology, but also more general digital imaging.

There are three categories through which I am currently looking at this research, related to digital imaging, bodies, and physical space. First, the tracking of the user’s image throughout theatrical displays of technology. Most of the places took the visitor’s picture at various times, and placed them in the digital realm, whether that be next to a K-pop idol or on their own (and invariably, for data collection purposes). Second, physical bodily interaction with digital technology; from a person creating digital images through movement, to sharing space with holograms, to using digital images to create physical replicas of idols’ bodies (such as 3D printed models). Thirdly, how each location showed an awareness of global tourism and/or fan culture, whether that was through explicit fandom spaces, or displaying global achievements. Though I am still researching holograms and popular culture, this trip guided me to pay more attention to the physical spaces and corporate involvement surrounding them as well.