▲ Han reading a book in Min’s book rental shop. Provided by CultureMine
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls,” is how Pablo Picasso defined art. Many people of contemporary life think likewise—to them “art” symbolizes leisure, hobby, and relaxation. Art has undergone metamorphosis, as it developed alongside contemporary life. One of the biggest changes of all is that art changed its appearance. Indeed, it has diversified itself by jumping into a broader spectrum, ranging from performances to technology art. However art has also been cut into two divisions and been separated by a wall erected by the public—popular art, and the not-so-popular art. The play Metamorphosis inquires about the following question: is the art mass public enjoys today sincere art?
Cheers to the art that will not be shamed throughout history. Cheers to the art that will save humanity,” Min Hyosuk, the main character, cries out, as he pours in a glass of wine. The story revolves around three characters as follows: Min, a poor poet and owner of a book rental shop, Han Soyoung, his wife who tries to take care of the financial burden, and Oh Dongtak, an ignorant butcher who learns how to write poetry from Min. They maintain a friendly and peaceful relationship until the day Oh decides to publish his poems. While he becomes a bestseller poet, Min is still in a pit of poverty and everything starts to change.
▲ Oh hosting a poetry reading event at Min’s shop. Provided by CultureMine
Metamorphosis throws out a question: what is this society that we are living in? Is it okay to judge every little human activity through physical, financial, and utilitarian standards? Although Min’s poems are unknown and not on the Top 100 Hot Book list, he has been and continues to be a poet. Sadly, in a capitalist society in which the value of every little thing is decided in terms of money, unknown artists represented by Min, have little chance of being admitted as artists. The cold truth in today’s society is that many poor artists who transform their inspirations into physical forms are deemed as idealists—people who have their heads up in the sky—and are encouraged to quit and be more realistic.
As Min’s wailful cry of pain and despair resonates across the theater, the irony of art being judged merely by public taste becomes more evident. Art is art for what it is, not for the monetary returns that it could bring. Nowadays, people classify art into two categories as follows: pure art and popular arts. Why should there be this distinction in the first place? How can the inspirations of so many artists be shoved into two abstract categories? Metamorphosis seems to press achingly on the societal wound that capitalist societies have hidden. The ultimate question remains; should not art be left for its own sake?
▲ Han secretly spying on her husband’s search records. Provided by CultureMine
What makes this play so special is that it straightforwardly points to problems that many have overlooked. It urges that today’s art is overly tilted to one side, namely toward the popular arts where public tastes dictate values. However, one must not be misled to think that the play is trying to blame people for this act. The story shows three people who all have different stances towards the decline of art in the face of capitalism. It asks people to reflect on their artistic values as well.
It also inquires about one more important thing—artists, who are they? People tend to think of artists as people who have free spirits and talents that magically guide them, and who seclude themselves from the real world. In other words, people presume that art is something that is far away from them. Metamorphosis casts doubt on this view via Oh’s poems; his poems are not about a special insight or the beauty of nature; they were about cutting meat which is Oh’s life itself. Maybe creating art is something that can be reached. Maybe anyone can create art using the daily routines they engage in. Maybe art is life itself. This is what the play insinuates to the audiences who gaze amazingly at the performance.
▲ Han and Min talking to each other about their lives. Provided by CultureMine.
The whole atmosphere of the play could be described as serene. Min’s book rental shop, with stacked books everywhere, is the only setting that appears, and only three characters emerge. However it is this serenity that depicts the lives of artists in a real manner—there is no drama, no artificialness, but just the rise and fall of art. One of the biggest advantages is that the story goes on with poems read out loud—poems about obscene physical love, cutting meat, and artistic souls—along with live guitar music played by the actors themselves. As the story developed and the play reaches the climax, the audience nervously wonders what will happen to the lives of three very different people.
▲ Han lying on the floor after she throws a whole bunch of books. Provided by CultureMine.
“It is easy to make a book. What is difficult to make is the soul of the book,” says Han. People cannot help but enjoy art throughout their lives. Metamorphosis creates a soft rumble within people’s hearts; as they are exposed to a whole new aspect of art, they cannot help but be mesmerized and at the same time look back upon whether the art they believed in was truly art after all. Just when people thought that they knew and have seen everything there is to art, this play shows that there is so much more to art than anyone could have imagined. This artistic play, which magically hooks the audience with its serene, but keen message of true art, is definitely a show contemporary people should see.