Biennale 2014 Best National Participation: Republic of Korea




photo  © Andrea Avezzù
photo © Andrea Avezzù

The Jury of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia composed of Francesco Bandarin (President, Italy), Kunlé Adeyemi (Nigeria), Bregtje van der Haak (The Netherlands), Hou Hanru (China), and Mitra Khoubrou (United Arab Emirates) has decided to confer the awards the Best National Participation at Republic of Corea with “Crow’s Eye View: The Korean Peninsula”.

Yi Sang, Crow’s Eye View, Poem No. 4, 1934; typeset by Sulki and Min, 2014
Yi Sang, Crow’s Eye View, Poem No. 4, 1934; typeset by Sulki and Min, 2014

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided in two. Within the polarizing global and state systems of the Cold War, a society and culture that had maintained a unified state entity for more than a millennium evolved radically divergent yet irrevocably interconnected economic, political, and ideological systems.

Ahn Sekwon, Cheonggye Stream’s View of Seoul Lights, 2004 / © Ahn Sekwon
Ahn Sekwon, Cheonggye Stream’s View of Seoul Lights, 2004 / © Ahn Sekwon

The trauma of war and adversarial politics have too often sensationalized and over-simplified this condition, reproducing clichés and prejudices that obscure the complexity and possibilities that lie in the Peninsula’s past, present, and future. In the Korean Pavilion, the architecture of North and South Korea is presented as an agent—a mechanism for generating alternative narratives capable of perceiving both the everyday and the monumental in new ways.

Architect unknown, Kim Il-sung University, Pyongyang, 1946; photo by Charlie Crane, Kim Il-sung University, 2006 © Charlie Crane
Architect unknown, Kim Il-sung University, Pyongyang, 1946; photo by Charlie Crane, Kim Il-sung University, 2006 © Charlie Crane

The exhibition is inspired by “Crow’s Eye View,” a serial poem by the Korean architect-turned-poet Yi Sang (1910–37). Published in 1934 and influenced by the Dada movement, “Crow’s Eye View” is the emblem of the fragmented vision of a Korean poet who aspired to be a modern architect, an aspiration that was impossible to fulfill under the debilitations of Japanese colonial rule.

Nam June Paik, Untitled, ca. 1988, from Project DMZ, Storefront for Art and Architect, New York Courtesy of the Storefront for Art and Architecture Archive, New York
Nam June Paik, Untitled, ca. 1988, from Project DMZ, Storefront for Art and Architect, New York Courtesy of the Storefront for Art and Architecture Archive, New York

In contrast to a bird’s-eye view—a singular and universalizing perspective—it points to the impossibility of a cohesive grasp of not only the architecture of a divided Korea but the idea of architecture itself. Ironically, while most of the world is relatively free to visit North Korea and South Korea, South Koreans are rarely given the opportunity for direct communication. Admittedly a South Korean point of view, Crow’s Eye View is a prologue for a yet unrealized joint exhibition of the two Koreas, what we would call the “First Architecture Exhibition of the Korean Peninsula.”

Yehre Suh, Actor Map of Korea, 2014 © Yehre Suh
Yehre Suh, Actor Map of Korea, 2014 © Yehre Suh

The exhibition is by no means a comprehensive or balanced presentation of the architecture of the two Koreas. Like uncharted patches of an irregular globe, a diverse range of work produced by architects, urbanists, poets and writers, artists, photographers and filmmakers, curators and collectors forms a multiple set of research programs, entry nodes, and points of view.

Ji Dong-seok, Construction of May Day Stadium, 1988, ink painting
Ji Dong-seok, Construction of May Day Stadium, 1988, ink painting

They call attention to the urban and architectural phenomena of the planned and the informal, individual and collective, the heroic and the everyday. Intertwined yet in opposition, spilling over to each other, they reveal the way that a wide range of architectural interventions have reflected and shaped the life of the Korean Peninsula.

Anonymous architect of the Paektusan Academy of Architecture, Silk Co-operative, 2011; acrylic on paper Commissioned by Nick Bonner, courtesy of the Nick Bonner Collection, Beijing
Anonymous architect of the Paektusan Academy of Architecture, Silk Co-operative, 2011; acrylic on paper Commissioned by Nick Bonner, courtesy of the Nick Bonner Collection, Beijing

The exhibition is co-curated by the architectural historians and critics Hyungmin Pai and Changmo Ahn. The exhibitors include Ahn Sekwon, Alessandro Belgiojoso, Nick Bonner (featuring the Mansudae Art Studio and anonymous artists and architects of North Korea), Marc Brossa, Che Onejoon, Charlie Crane, Maxime Delvaux, Jun Min Cho, Ik-Joong Kang, Karolis Kazlauskas and PLT Planning & Architecture Ltd., Dongsei Kim, Kim Hanyong, Kim Kichan, Seok Chul Kim & Franco Mancuso, Kim Swoo Geun, Young June Lee, Chris Marker, Philipp Meuser, Moon Hoon, MOTOElastico, Osamu Murai, Peter Noever (featuring the North Korean architects exhibited in Flowers for Kim Il Sung, MAK, 2010), Kyong Park (featuring Nam June Paik and the artists of Project DMZ, Storefront for Art and Architecture, 1988), James Powderly, Kyungsub Shin, Hyun-Suk Seo (featuring Kim Jong Hui et al.), Yehre Suh, Yi Sang and Dongwoo Yim.

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