This Huge Crashing Wave in a Seoul Aquarium Is Actually a Gigantic Optical Illusion

I live in Seoul, and when­ev­er I’m back in the West, I hear the same ques­tion over and over: what’s Gang­nam like? Pre­sum­ably West­ern­ers would­n’t have had any­thing to ask me before the viral­i­ty of “Gang­nam Style,” and specif­i­cal­ly of the music video sat­i­riz­ing the image of that part of the Kore­an cap­i­tal. In Kore­an, “Gang­nam” lit­er­al­ly means “south of the riv­er,” the water­way in ques­tion being the Han Riv­er, which runs through mod­ern Seoul much as the Thames and the Seine run through Lon­don and Paris. Devel­oped in the main only since the 1970s, after Kore­a’s unprece­dent­ed­ly rapid indus­tri­al­iza­tion had begun, Gang­nam looks and feels quite dif­fer­ent from the old city north of the Han. In the finan­cial cen­ter of Gang­nam, every­thing’s big­ger, taller, and more expen­sive — all of it meant to impress.

With Psy’s nov­el­ty song a thing of the dis­tant past — in inter­net years, at least — the world now thrills again to anoth­er glimpse of Gang­nam style: a dig­i­tal screen that looks like a giant water tank, full of waves per­pet­u­al­ly crash­ing against its walls. When video of this high-tech opti­cal illu­sion went viral, it looked even more uncan­ny to me than it did to most view­ers, since I rec­og­nized it from real life.

Though I hap­pen to live in Gang­buk (“north of the riv­er”), when­ev­er I go to Gang­nam, I usu­al­ly come out of the Sam­sung sub­way sta­tion, right across the street from COEX. A con­ven­tion-cen­ter com­plex embed­ded in a set of dif­fi­cult-to-nav­i­gate malls, COEX also includes SM Town COEX Artium, a flashy tem­ple of K‑pop run by music com­pa­ny SM Enter­tain­ment. Announc­ing SM Town’s pres­ence, this colos­sal wrap­around dis­play, the largest of its kind in the coun­try, usu­al­ly offers up either fresh-faced pop stars or ads for Kore­an-made cars.

Occa­sion­al­ly the SM Town screen’s pro­gram­ming gets more cre­ative, and “#1_WAVE with Anamor­phic illu­sion” has made the most strik­ing use of its shape and dimen­sions yet. Designed by Gang­nam’s own d’strict, this piece of pub­lic video art “serves as a sweet escape and brings com­fort and relax­ation to peo­ple” — or so says d’stric­t’s Sean Lee in an inter­view with Bored Pan­da’s Rober­tas Lisick­is. It’s even impressed Seoulites, accus­tomed though they’ve grown to large-scale video screens clam­or­ing for their atten­tion. Even up in Gang­buk, the LED-cov­ered facade of the build­ing right across from Seoul Sta­tion has turned into a “Dig­i­tal Can­vas” every night for near­ly a decade. Though that artis­tic instal­la­tion nev­er dis­plays adver­tis­ing, most of the increas­ing­ly large screens of Seoul are used for more overt­ly com­mer­cial pur­pos­es. There may be some­thing dystopi­an about this scale of dig­i­tal adver­tise­ment tech­nol­o­gy in pub­lic space — but as every Blade Run­ner fan knows, there’s some­thing sub­lime about it as well.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The MIT “Check­er Shad­ow Illu­sion” Brought to Life

Watch Mar­cel Duchamp’s Hyp­not­ic Rotore­liefs: Spin­ning Discs Cre­at­ing Opti­cal Illu­sions on a Turntable (1935)

M.C. Escher’s Per­pet­u­al Motion Water­fall Brought to Life: Real or Sleight of Hand?

Google Puts Online 10,000 Works of Street Art from Across the Globe

China’s New Lumi­nous White Library: A Strik­ing Visu­al Intro­duc­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.