Introduction of the exhibition, Korean Pavilion
History Has Failed Us, but No Matter*

Who canonized the formation of history and whose bodies are yet to be written about as part of that history? This exhibition explores the history of modernization in East Asia through the lens of gender and the agency of tradition. Questioning the canon of the heterosexual male as much as it questions the West, this is also an argument over the many boundaries and borders of modernity that are carved into today’s aporia. In particular, in its critical understanding of the problems of the modernization process in Asia, this exhibition investigates how tradition is invented and generated in close relation to modernity, and explores the emancipatory potential of tradition in Asia through a perception of gender complexity that goes beyond the canon of Western modernity. Constructing a genealogy of queer performance in Korean society, and examining the notion of queering and its aesthetics, for the past ten years siren eun young jung has based her work on yeoseong gukgeuk, a fast waning genre of Korean traditional theater that features only women actors. Jane Jin Kaisen interprets the Bari myth, a story of a daughter who was ousted from her community, as a new potential of escaping borders and separation, and as a liminality interrupting West’s colonial-modern. Hwayeon Nam explores the work of the twentieth-century choreographer and dancer Choi Seung-hee, who embraced a grand ambition for East Asian dance and constantly collided with modern borders as she generated modern inventions while struggling with ideologies and notions of nation. In the work of these three artists—presented in the Korean Pavilion for the 58th Venice Biennale within the exhibition History Has Failed Us, but No Matter—“tradition” serves as a significant medium throughout the process of digging into, researching, discovering, rethinking, and finally interrupting the modality of the East Asian modernization that has been in pursuit of Western modernity. Generating a complex narrative assemblage of historical interventions, the three artists in this exhibition seek to resist and create ruptures in the logic of systems and power, and they are keen to question how the development of civilization, violence of convention, and the norms of such history take place in our times. Saturated with the performance of tactile knowledge and the experiences of affect that are manifested through the sounds, rhythms, waves, series of scattered images and bodily movements, the exhibition attempts a space for the veiled, the forgotten, the exiled, the condemned, and the silenced. Here, they murmur, sing, cry, pause, laugh, express, move, and dance, and finally speak out loud. “History has failed us, but no matter.”

*        The title of the exhibition is borrowed from the first sentence of Min Jin Lee’s novel Pachinko (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2017).
Hyunjin Kim
Curator of Korean Pavilion

Hyunjin Kim is a curator and writer, currently the KADIST Lead Curator for Asia and the curator of the Korean Pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, 2019. She was a co-curator of the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008) and worked as the director of Arko Art Center, Seoul (2014–15). Her numerous curatorial projects include 2 or 3 Tigers (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2017), Gridded Currents (Kukje Gallery, Seoul, 2017), Tradition (Un)Realized (Arko Art Center, Seoul, 2014), and Plug-In #3-Undeclared Crowd (Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2006). Kim has also curated and written for artists such as Nina Canell, Hwayeon Nam, Haegue Yang, Jewyo Rhii, and Seoyoung Chung, and commissioned performance/theater works of Sung Hwan Kim, siren eun young jung, and Jewyo Rhii, among others. Kim was a member of the advisory board for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2014–16) and a jury member for the DAAD Berlin artists-in-residence program (2017–18).