Hyundai Artlab

Counterbalance: The Stone & The Mountain

2017 - 2017
Korean Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia Arte
Cody Choi. Venetian Rhapsody -The Power of Bluff, 2016-17, Mixed media (Neon, LED, painted steel), Installation vary
Cody Choi. Venetian Rhapsody -The Power of Bluff, 2016-17, Mixed media (Neon, LED, painted steel), Installation vary
Courtesy of the artist & PKM Gallery.

Counterbalance: The Stone & The Mountain
May 13 2017 – November 26 2017, Korean Pavilion, Venice Biennale

About the Exhibition

“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 some ligh...

“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 some light on the future?” The exhibition Counterbalance: The Stone & The Mountain strives to answer these questions through the artists, Mr. K, Cody Choi, and Lee Wan. The exhibition was structured around three geographical frames—Korea, Asia, the world—and three generations of Koreans. Mr.K represents the first generation, Cody Choi the second, and Lee Wan the third. Mr.K, Choi, and Lee compose a certain relationship along generational and geographical axes that produces a figure of Korean identity. They present three distinct moments in Korea’s recent history and respond to three different geographical frameworks. The artists’ positions ultimately illustrate the meaning behind the title, Counterbalance: The Stone and the Mountain. At first glance, the nature of a stone is not fundamentally different from that of a mountain, which distinguishes itself from the stone only in terms of scale or magnitude. Similarly, the individual stories that are given expression through the work of the pavilion’s artists represent a condensed and particularized from of history that is symptomatic of Korea’s – and even, our world’s – trajectory in the last century. And yet, a mountain implies hierarchical structure that the stone does not possess.

Cody Choi represents a generation of Korean artists who responded to Western cultural domination through appropriation and parody in the 90s. Such strategies enabled Choi to process his own culture shock as an immigrant to the United States and it shows in his work that speaks to the shared experience of the Korean diaspora. On the roof of the Pavilion, his work 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 desirable and mediated locations. 

Lee Wan adopts an investigative approach of his art by inserting 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. In his work, Proper Time, 668 clocks were engraved with the names, birth dates, nationalities, and occupations of individuals he interviewed from around the globe. 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.

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 dislocate from dominant systems and individual struggles may prove analogous to those of the wider contemporary world.

Mr. K and the Collection of Korean History is an installation displaying the 1,412 personal photographs belonging to a man named Kim Kimoon, a deceased journalist who lived from 1936 to 2011 which archives Lee found and “purchased” for about 50 US dollars at an antique market in Korea. Through Lee’s investigation, Mr.K narrates such authorship in writing about the generation of Koreans who experienced the moments of the 20th century: Japanese colonial rule, the Korean War and ensuing division of the Korean Peninsula, the establishment of the Republic of Korea, and as well as the country’s exponential economic growth and democratization. Juxtaposed with Lee’s own collection of artifacts, Mr. K refuses one trajectory and construction of modern history by questioning the very notion of truthful access to history and poetically impose the continuity between past and present that not one single comprehension of its complexity of the imbalanced times.

Cody Choi (b.1961) has consistently been active as a visual artist and cultural theorist since the 1980s, explores the cultural identity and relationship of authority within contemporary society. Choi touches upon topics of cultural maldigestion, third-culture created by the clash of different cultures, the beauty of such hybridism, and simultaneously occurring new social phenomena—all of which Choi experienced as a foreigner in the US. Choi gained his stature as a world-renowned artist after participating in a solo exhibition at Deitch Projects (New York, USA) and an inaugural group exhibition at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Marseille (Marseille, France) in the mid-1990s. From 2015 to 2017 he had a retrospective traveling show at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf, Germany), Musée d’Art Contemporain de Marseille (Marseille, France), Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz (Chemnitz, Germany) organized by art-historian John C. Welchman. Choi was a representing artist at the Korean Pavilion for the 2017 Venice Biennale. His publication includes Topography of 20th Century Culture (2006) and Topography of Contemporary Culture (2010), which are critiques about contemporary society and culture.

Lee Wan (b. 1971) examines the contemporary social structure with a keen perspective and reinterprets them through various visual media. By capturing the inescapable social structure that enforces de-individualized roles, Lee attempts to highlight the systemic problems following the democratization of Asia from a political as well as socio-economic perspective.

Winning the first ‘Art Spectrum Artist Award’ by Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in 2014, Lee Wan had solo exhibitions at 313 Art Project in 2015 and 2017, and at Daegu Art Museum in 2013. He joined group exhibitions including Korean Pavilion, the 57th Venice Biennale (2017), SPHERES, Galleria Continua, Les Moulins (2014, 2015); Buk Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul (2015); and the Gwangju Biennale (2014).