Korean Pavilion
Giardini, Venice, Italy
13 May – 26 November 2017

The Republic of Korea’s National Pavilion at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia will feature the work of Cody Choi and Lee Wan. Commissioned by Arts Council Korea and curated by Seoul based contemporary curator, Lee Daehyung, their joint exhibition entitled Counterbalance: The Stone and the Mountain, focuses on the conflicts and dislocation that the two artists perceive in modern Korean identity. The Korean Pavilion will be open in the Venice Giardini from 13 May – 26 November 2017.

Speaking about the exhibition, Lee Daehyung says: “Recent world events and trends, such as the rise of right-wing populist movements and general backlash against immigrants have brought issues of identity and difference to the fore. The two artists that the Korean Pavilion is featuring are delving into the machinations of global networks as well as into the politics of identity, each offering a different window into our shared world, whilst reflecting on the influence and repercussions of worldwide phenomena on Korea.”

He adds, referring to the exhibition’s title Counterbalance: The Stone and the Mountain, “By revealing the transnational conditions of production and consumption, these two artists create works of arts that are distillations of human experience. If a stone stands for the individual, then the mountain is the societal system in which they are lodged. Through the lens of this exhibition, individual struggles may prove analogous to those of the wider contemporary world.”

Cody Choi lives and works in Seoul. He came to prominence on the international art scene in the mid 1990s, after immigrating to the United States as a student. His work has been seen in Europe including a major retrospective curated by renowned American art historian, John C Welchman, which was presented at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (2015) and at the Musée d’art contemporain de Marseille (2016).

Growing up in the social turmoil of Korean modernisation, Choi is representative of a generation of Korean artists who, in the 1990s, engaged in a cultural “tug of war” with the West, with its tensions between assimilation and maintaining a distinct identity.

Responding to these shocks, Choi has created a major new work for Venice. Venetian Rhapsody, installed on the roof of the Pavilion, a glowing forest of neon signage that, says curator Lee Daehyung, “…borrows freely from the visual ambiance of casinos in Las Vegas and Macao and reflects on the spectacle of global capitalism.” Choi’s work in Venice will also include the parodic sculpture known as The Thinker, a reinvention of Rodin’s sculpture constructed from toilet paper and the pink American stomach medicine Pepto-Bismol. Says Choi: “We Koreans are maybe in a state of contradiction and dislocation as a result of our rapid adoption of a capitalist and consumerist way of life. We know there is no real but we continue to chase fantasies and to search for the real (or maybe there is no fantasy at all). I communicate the frustration produced by a crisis of identity and the mirages of global capitalism.”

Lee Wan belongs to a younger generation of Korean artists. Through his work, Lee Wan investigates the hidden lives of individuals exploited by global power structures in countries all over Asia and beyond.

Among his works at this year’s Biennale will be Proper Time, which consists of 600 clocks, each engraved with the name, date of birth, nationality and occupation of individuals the artist met and interviewed around the world, researching the widely differing economic circumstances of working people. According to Lee Daehyung “Each clock moves at a different rate that is determined by the amount of time the individual in question must work in order to afford a meal.” The result is an absurdist aggregation of abstract portraits that doubles as a loud, dizzying multi-sensorial and immersive representation of global inequality.

Another major installation by Lee Wan will be Mr K and the Collection of Korean History. This work is based on Lee Wan’s discovery in a Korean antique market of the archive and personal effects of one man, Kim Ki Moon (1936-2011) who, via this work, takes on the symbolic identity of all Koreans of his generation. Kim Ki Moon lived through the defining moments of Korea’s tumultuous 20th century: Japanese colonial rule; the Korean War and ensuing division of the Korean Peninsula; the establishment of the Republic of Korea; the dictatorship of the 60s and 70s, as well as the country’s exponential economic growth and ultimate transition to democracy. Mr K’s belongings are juxtaposed with Lee Wan’s own collection of artefacts to create a multi-layered narrative of Korea’s modern history.

Individually and collectively, Cody Choi and Lee Wan take part in responding to the following questions presented by the Korean Pavilion: How do individual stories relate to national histories? How might our understanding of this dynamic in the Korean context be relevant to the rest of the world and shed light on the future? To answer these questions, Lee Daehyung has structured the exhibition around three geographical frames—Korea, Asia, and the world—and three generations of Koreans. Mr. K, representing the first generation, Cody Choi the second, and Lee Wan the third.