I envisioned two images capable of carrying a critique of the world’s current state of affairs, while conveying “positive energy” in lieu of pure negation. The first image that came to my mind was that of a mountain and a stone from the mountain. The second was an image of rolling waves, whose momentum and enlargement are tempered by the reciprocal force of gravity. Much difference exists between a stone and a mountain in terms of physical size; yet a scientific and philosophical analysis of the essential substance of a stone reveals that it is fundamentally no different from that of a mountain. The water molecules of a wave constantly change their positions within the body of the water, depending on the size of the wave. Their ever-changing positions indicate that the concepts of high and low, great and trivial, and large and small are always relative and thus never constant. It is important to note that this relentless movement is not disruptive but constitutive of the wave’s equilibrium, indeed, of its very power and identity. My repeated contemplation of these two images eventually engendered the title for the Korean Pavilion’s 2017 exhibition: Counterbalance: The Stone and the Mountain.
To select artists, whose works most appropriately correspond to this philosophical train of thought, I first established the following analogies:
Ultimately, the Korean Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale strives to answer the following question: How do individual stories relate to national histories? How might our understanding of this dynamic in the Korean context apply to the rest of the world and shed some light on the future?
The exhibition is structured around three geographical frames—Korea, Asia, and the world—and three generations of Koreans. Mr. K, represents the first generation, Cody Choi the second, and Lee Wan the third. The pavilion’s works aim to inspire the imagination and trigger the empathy of diverse audiences.
Cody Choi represents a generation of Korean artists who, in the 1990s, responded to Western cultural domination through appropriation and parody. Such strategies enabled Choi to process his own culture shock as an immigrant to the United States—a nation that had infiltrated his own through aggressive socioeconomic maneuvers. His work speaks to the shared experience of the Korean diaspora. Operating in between Asia and the US, Choi can critique both regions and their perceptions of one another. On the roof of the Pavilion, Venetian Rhapsody creates a dense, glowing forest of neon signage that borrows freely from the visual ambiance of casinos in Las Vegas and Macao and reflects on the spectacle of global capitalism in its most desirous and mediated locales.
In his performative and archival works of art, Lee Wan adopts an investigative approach and inserts himself into economic and social systems. For his five-year project, titled Made In, Lee traveled to various Asian countries in order to produce the raw goods necessary for the preparation of a typical breakfast. Later, in Proper Time, 668 clocks were engraved with the names, birth dates, nationalities, and occupations of individuals he interviewed from around the world. 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. For Counterbalance, Lee presents the story of a deceased journalist, Mr. K., through Mr. K’s personal archive of 1,412 photographs and personal objects, which the artist found and purchased for $50 USD at an antique market in Korea. Miraculously, the trove had survived Japanese imperialism, the Korean War, years of dictatorship, and rapid economic transformation of Korea.
By revealing the transnational conditions of production and consumption, these two artists create works of art 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. Even so, single stories retain the power to critique and dislodge dominant systems. Through the lens of this exhibition, individual struggles may prove analogous to those of the wider contemporary world.
B. 1974, SEOUL
Lee Daehyung, art critic, curator, and the acclaimed Power Leader 2012 by Forbes Korea, is the founder of the curating company, Hzone. He has been curating contemporary Asian art for the last 16 years. From Seoul to Beijing, to New York and London, Daehyung has worked with Ahn Kyuchul, Lee Yongbaek, Debbie Han, Doho Suh, Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi, Yue Minjun, Fang Lijun, Miao Xiaochun, and many more.
He curated Korean Eye: Moon Generation in 2009 and its continued exhibition until 2012 at London’s Saatchi Gallery. In cooperation with SKIRA, he worked as the chief curator and author of Korean Eye: Contemporary Korean Art I in 2010 and Korean Eye: Contemporary Korean Art II in 2012. He also organized the annual exhibition Korea Tomorrow, which aimed to converge fine art, design, and architecture. His other projects include Daegu Art Forum: Future of Techno-Imagination with Propon Kumjin, Wu Takun, Enin Supriyanto, Taro Amano; The Future of Museum with Dr. Mino Yutaka (Founder of Kanazawa 21st Century Musuem); International Pavilion of the Cheongju International Craft Biennale; Image Installation, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul; Changwon Sculpture Biennale, Changwon City, Korea; Solid Illusion: Korean Media Artists, China World Trade Center, Beijing, China; Hyper Narrative, Korea Tomorrow, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul; Root of Imagination I: Lee Yongbaek, Seo Minjung, Kim Kira, Hong Buhm, Absinthe, Seoul; Root of Imagination II: Mioon, Jung Yeondoo, Han Jinsu, Park Junghyuk, Absinthe, Seoul; WOMAD CODE (Woman Nomad Code), Louis Vuitton Espace, LVMH, Hong Kong; Park Seungmo: Solid Illusion, Absinthe, Seoul; Hyundai Card & MoMA Curatorial Exchange Program with Paola Antonelli; Doho Suh: Speculation Project, SUN Contemporary, Seoul; 3 Faces & 3 Colours: Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang, ARTSIDE, Seoul, Korea; Unmask the Mask: Zeng Fanzhi, ARTSIDE, Seoul, Korea.
Daehyung is currently leading Hyundai Motor Company’s global art initiatives that include ‘MMCA Hyundai Motor Series,’ ‘Hyundai Commission’ at Tate Modern, ‘The Hyundai Project’ at LACMA, Bloomberg ‘Brilliant Ideas,’ the ‘Hyundai Meets Art’ project, ‘ART-UNI-ON,’ and more.
He majored in Kunstwissenschaft (BA) at Hongik University, Seoul and holds a master’s degree in Curatorial Studies from Columbia University in New York.