facing north korea
FACING NORTH KOREA
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is considered one of the most isolated and therefore most mysterious countries in the world. For decades, the West has received disturbing and often exaggerated reports from the Kim dynasty. The seemingly grotesque conglomerate of the Confucian caste system, the nationalist-communist Chuch’e ideology and the eternal President Kim Il Sung offers many inspirations for an artistic debate. In the exhibition FACING NORTH KOREA two South Korean and two German artists deal with the country and its regime as openly as possible, both in terms of content and aesthetics, and try to understand it from its history and culture––as openly as possible and beyond the usual resentments.
The media artist Chan Sook Choi shows her installation Yangjiri (2018), which consists of a 1-channel video, objects and a photo archive. In the 1960s, under the military dictatorship of General Park Chung-hee, a propaganda village was established in South Korea in the immediate vicinity of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), where North Korean war refugees were forced to settle. These Yangjiri villages were staged like a huge stage set, all doors and windows facing north. The aim of the architecture was to display a prosperity that was de facto non-existent. Despite the strict prohibition, the residents began to extend their tiny dwellings, which consisted almost exclusively of facades, almost imperceptibly backwards over long periods of time. These added layers expand in the artist’s cinematic work into sheer endless, hybrid spaces without openings.
The island of Kyodong lies directly below the military demarcation line, four kilometres from North Korea. During the Korean War, it was a refuge for numerous refugees. Byungjun Kwon interprets the tragic history of the island under the title Forest of Subtle Truth 3 (2017) as a soundscape. The transmissions of the propaganda loudspeakers from North and South Korea present there until 2018 are just as much a component of his composition as nature noises or the singing of a North Korean exiles.
Byungjun Kwon conveys the site-specific sounds via headphones using the Local Positioning System (LPS). The exhibition visitors can move freely with the headphones and interact with the sounds arranged in the room.
After a long preparation, Bernhard Draz invited the sound artist Georg Klein on a trip to the DPRK in September 2017 at the height of the political conflict. Two days after their arrival, Donald Trump threatened the United Nations with the complete annihilation of North Korea. No one could have guessed at that time that one year later Trump would meet Kim Jong Un in Singapore for a summit and a little later admit a downright romantic relationship with the North Korean ruler.
In his desire to actually understand the isolated country, Bernhard Draz attempted a maximum rapprochement up to empathy. To express this, he integrated himself as the protagonist in North Korean propaganda posters, which he realized as large-format acrylic paintings entitled Empathic Propaganda (2018). He replaced the original texts with quotations that contain less martial slogans but more statements about North Korea’s self-image, with the humor typical of Korea. In the foyer of the project room he also presents an archive of propaganda material from North Korea.
Under the title The Sound before Silence – Souvenirs from North Korea (2018), Georg Klein is working up the political tensions in a personal report. Audio-visual material and found objects are reminders of the journey when the outbreak of war in 2017 seemed alarmingly close. Staged in a pentagonal, isolated chamber, the centre of his dramaturgy is a North-Korean song: During a guided tour through the flower exhibition in Pyongyang, Georg Klein asked a young, traditionally dressed guide to sing the song of “Kimilsungia”, a flower breeding in honour of the eternal president Kim Il Sung. Back in Berlin Klein decomposed the song together with the South Korean Gayageum player Youjin SUNG, who for the first time entered into a musical dialogue with a ‘sister’ from the North.
Facing North Korea Project Link /
1. Facing North Korea – THE OBSERVATORY PROJECT
2. Facing North Korea – PENINSULA GRAMMAR