Every Island is a Mountain
19.4 – 8.9, 2024
Palazzo Malta – Ordine di Malta

Introduction

On Every Island is a Mountain:
The 30th Anniversary Exhibition of the Korean Pavilion
at the Venice Biennale
Jade Keunhye Lim (Artistic Director)

Malta Installation view of Every Island is a Mountain (2024). Courtesy of Arts Council Korea. Photograph by Park Jimin Every Island is a Mountain is an exhibition that celebrates the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the last national pavilion in the Giardini garden. Organized by the Arts Council Korea and mounted at the Palazzo Malta - Ordine di Malta during the 2024 Venice Biennale, this exhibition unites 36 artists who have participated in the Venice Biennale over the years, showcasing the evolution of Korean art. It traces Korean art's ascent to international prominence and contemporary significance over the past three decades, a journey fostered by its engagement with the Venice Biennale. The exhibition aims to examine the role of the Korean Pavilion in challenging nationalism, advocating for decolonization, and enriching the global art ecosystem with its diversity and vitality.

The title of the exhibition, ‘Every Island is a Mountain,’ symbolizes the connection of time and space through art. Just as islands are interconnected beneath the sea through underwater terrain and marine ecosystems, the theme suggests that individual lives and art are intrinsically linked to historical and social contexts. Serving as a conceptual anchor is philosophy of media art of late Nam June Paik, who played a pivotal role in establishing the Korean pavilion. His Golden-lion prize winning work, at the German Pavilion in 1993, proposed that the envisioning of the Eurasian continuum and the unifying potential of media technologies could reconnect the world divided by Western-centric ideologies. Additionally, the exhibition draws inspiration from conversations with participating artists about the exacerbated ecological and climatic challenges following the recent COVID-19 pandemic, along with works that use islands as symbols and metaphors for the circle of life, engagement with marine ecologists and activists in Venice, the Édouard Glissant's 'archipelagic thought,' emphasizing a non-hierarchical, decentralized approach.

Every Island is a Mountain showcases artistic thought and practice that transcends the boundaries between past, present, and future; individual and community; local and global; as well as technology and art, featuring works produced over the past 30 years, from those presented at the opening of the Korean Pavilion in 1995 to recent works. The artists' individual practices, interwoven through diverse senses and narratives, resonate with universal human values and artistic visions, unfolding into imaginative landscapes that span islands and mountains. The introduction features a documentary video that reinterprets archival materials related to the Korean Pavilion, collected by the ARKO Arts Archive, through the perspectives of next-generation artists, thereby recalling past memories to the present. The exhibition extends into the Palazzo's intimately clustered chambers, tranquil courtyards, and outdoor gardens, intertwining the timelines of medieval Venice with contemporary Korea. Furthermore, intermittent sound art pieces in the interstitial spaces envelop the individual works, much like islands embraced by the sea.

The Transparent Pavilion, nestled in the outdoor garden and modeled after the Korean Pavilion in Giardini, provides a haven of respite for both the Palazzo's neighbors and Biennale visitors. It also serves as a communal space for public programs, realized in collaboration with local research institutions and art organizations. Kicking off with Buon Giorno Signor Paik, a live performance as a tribute to Nam June Paik, the public programs in the garden aims to forge a nexus—akin to new islands and mountains—where local and global dialogues converge and interact.

Exhibition Overview

The Archipelagic Community
Pledging the Future of the Korean Pavilion
Somi Sim (Co-Curator)

Established in 1995, the Korean Pavilion marks the final national pavilion of the Venice Biennale nestled within the Giardini. Over its history, the Pavilion has hosted 39 artists and a host of commissioners and collaborators, becoming a crucial intersection that blends cultural boundaries across Korea, Italy, and the wider world. Instead of adhering to a linear historical recount, the participating artists' timelines emerge as islands in a transnational network, enriched by their collective interactions. Conceived to celebrate the Korean Pavilion's upcoming 30th anniversary, Every Island is a Mountain moves from segmented, vertical timelines to a unified, horizontal narrative, reimagining the exhibition as a global network of solidarity, connecting islands and mountains. The exhibition is held at the Palazzo Malta - Ordine di Malta, a place known for its long-standing tradition of hospitality and inclusiveness, deeply rooted in a medieval history of offering solace, healing, and rejuvenation to pilgrims and knights. The showcased works from 36 artists, who have left their mark on the Korean Pavilion through the years, echo the monastery's profound historical depth and welcoming spirit, weaving together a landscape of boundless exchange and openness.

Archive Exhibition: Bridging Local and Global - 30 Years of the Korean Pavilion

Malta Installation view of Every Island is a Mountain (2024). Courtesy of Arts Council Korea. Photograph by Park Jimin The configuration of the exhibition is designed to seamlessly integrate the ethos and messages of contemporary Korean art with the storied history and unique setting of the Palazzo, creating a space that bridges individuals and states, art and reality, as well as cultures and frontiers. As a prologue to the journey, the archive exhibition is situated at the very threshold of the exhibition venue, surveying the historical context and significance of the Korean Pavilion's location, while delivering the voices of its past and the visions oriented towards its future. Leveraging archives preserved by the Arts Archive of the Arts Council Korea, the exhibition presents a multi-layered perspective across three decades, illuminating hidden narratives, including artist Nam June Paik's foundational philosophical insights and the Pavilion's architectural evolution conducted by Seok Chul Kim and Franco Mancuso. This section revisits the journey from local to global, encapsulating the dialogues of contemporary art initiated by the Venice Biennale. Featured are sculptures and drawings by In Kyum Kim and Jheon Soocheon from the inaugural 1995 showcase, Yun Hyong-keun's drawings, and Bahc Yiso’s contributions from 2003 and 2005. Moreover, archive videos from emerging artists Songhee Noh (b. 1992) and Paik Jongkwan (b. 1982) offer new insights, reinterpreting the dialogue between archival records and collective memory, charting the Korean Pavilion's 30-year journey.¹

A Resonance of Korean Art within the Medieval Architecture

Malta Installation view of Every Island is a Mountain (2024). Courtesy of Arts Council Korea. Photograph by Park Jimin The exhibition’s second chapter is a showcase of marquee works from former Korean Pavilion artists, resonating through the inside and outside of the Palazzo Malta’s various architectural spaces. Drawing on the deep historical and locational significance of the building, the exhibition unfolds in a flow that seamlessly transitions between internal and external areas, places and non-places, main and auxiliary spaces, and across various temporal and cultural divides. Viewing each distinct architectural feature of the Palazzo—like the corridor-flanked exhibition rooms, the centrally located courtyard encircled by a cloister, medieval stables, and the newly restored fresco room—as 'islands,' the exhibition's layout thoughtfully guides visitors through these 'islands,' creating a nuanced topography akin to submerged mountain ranges, showcased through the works of 36 artists. Notably, Bae Young-whan's Anxiety—Seoul 5:30 PM (2012), located in the Palazzo’s courtyard, produces a harmonious resonance that overcomes disconnection and boundaries by blending the sound of temple bells recorded at dusk from twelve different temples in Seoul with the bell tones of Venice.

Additionally, the exhibition showcases a wide array of new and recent works by form GUARDIANS (2024), traversing the concept of mortality; Sora Kim’s an icy chill of a frozen fart (2023-24), probing the core of auditory experiences; and Jewyo Rhii’s Outside the Comfort Zone (2024), a tribute to the myriad collaborators integral to the artistic journey; and innovative paintings by Inkie Whang, Sungsic Moon, and Nakhee Sung, challenging contemporary painting by reinterpreting tradition and civilization, showcasing the vibrancy and breadth of contemporary Korean art.

New challenges in Korean art not only stem from the creation of new works but also from the reinterpretation of the previous contributions to the Korean Pavilion through contemporary lenses. Highlighted within this context are Do Ho Suh's Who Am We? (2000), which creatively transforms thousands of graduation photos into wallpaper for his 2001 showcase; Yeondoo Jung's Evergreen Tower (2001), depicting the landscapes of family and residence within Korean society for his 2005 exhibit; Kwak Hoon's Kalpa/Sound: What Marco Polo Left Behind (1995), renowned for its Onggi (traditional Korean earthenware pottery) installation and accompanying performances, such as a Daegeum (traditional Korean transverse bamboo flute) concert and a Buddhist nun's performance, marking the Pavilion's 1995 debut; and Bahc Yiso's incisive drawings critiquing cultural imperialism, all extending beyond the confines of cultural and temporal limitations and offering insights that resonate on a universal level.

Outdoor Exhibition: Realm of Symbiosis, Coexistence, Amity, and Welcome

Malta Installation view of Every Island is a Mountain (2024). Provided by Bf. Photograph by Hyunjung Kwon.Moving toward the concluding part of the exhibit, the outdoor exhibition unfolds, creating a shared space rooted in its openness. Following an architectural voyage within the Palazzo, traversing hallways, cloisters, stables, and communal areas, visitors emerge into a vast garden extending towards the scenic views of Venice. This garden, recognized as one of Venice's largest private gardens at 3,000 square meters, serves as a platform for both installations inspired by the ecological imagination central to the exhibition's theme as well as a series of public programs aiming to promote artistic endeavors and foster alternative communal models amid a global crisis deepened by strife and conflict. Highlights include Chung Seoyoung’s Evidence (2014), where living beings and objects come together in a collective stance; Ik-Joong Kang's recent work Arirang (2024), compiling hundreds of refugee drawings; Choi Jeong Hwa's nATuReNuRture (2023-24), promoting ecological synergy and cohabitation with a styrofoam cairn; and Kwak Hoon's distinguished piece from the 1995 Korean Pavilion. Each work emphasizes the vital role of artistic engagement in addressing global conflicts, ecological challenges, and the quest for peace and unity.

Korean artists endeavor to connect disparate realms—uniting the past with the present, the celestial with the terrestrial, humanity with nature, and islands with mountains—reflecting the Korean Pavilion's aspiration for a future marked by hospitality and openness. In homage to the Pavilion's ethos of architectural accessibility, OUR LABOUR's Transparent Pavilion (2024) stands as a welcoming sanctuary for all. This area champions dialogue, exchange, friendship, and hospitality, fostering collective moments that pave the way to the future. Spanning the Archive Exhibition that encapsulates three decades of the Pavilion's legacy, a showcase of past contributors’ works and the outdoor exhibition, Every Island is a Mountain crafts new archipelagic landscapes, invoking the essence of islands and mountains. By interweaving the outdoor exhibition and the public programs, the exhibition fosters an environment ripe for unity and dialogue, envisaging a future replete with community interactions and connections.

¹ The Archive Exhibition section draws from an exhibition text by Kyoung-yun Ho, the Senior Archive Researcher and co-curator of the exhibition.

Malta OUR LABOUR, Transparent Pavilion, 2024, Stainless Steel 11.5×11.5×3.5 m. Provided by Bf. Photograph by Hyunjung Kwon.

Designed by OUR LABOUR, the spatial designer of the exhibition, Transparent Pavilion (2024) epitomizes sharing and hospitality that pays homage to the open architectural blueprint of the Korean Pavilion in the Giardini garden. By recalibrating the traditional Korean dimension (10 chuk, 3m) to a scale that blends seamlessly with the Ordine di Malta's garden (6 chuk, 1.8m), it enables fluid engagements and communal experiences through the integration of indoor and outdoor vistas. The architectural hallmark of a lateral structure and a reflective ceiling echoes the encompassing landscape, laying the groundwork for a spectrum of events and opportunities between the audience and the locale. This pavilion, embracing a plethora of events and visitors, emerges as a sanctuary open to everyone. Its public programs transform it into a hub for dialogue, exchange, camaraderie, and hospitality, weaving a narrative that extends into the future.

Credit

Arts Council Korea

Chairperson
Byoung Gug Choung

Artistic Director
Jade Keunhye Lim

Venice Biennale TF
Byungeun Yoo
Bogyoung Kang
Sunhee Yeo
Jaehwi Lim
Ji Yeon Yu

Co-Curator
Somi Sim

Associate Curator
Youngsun Byun
Junyoung Lee
B. Jun Chae

Senior Archive Researcher
Kyoung-yun Ho

Archive Researcher
Dayoung Lee

Archival Video Artist
Songhee Noh
Paik Jongkwan

Opening Performance Co-production
Nam June Paik Art Center

Production Manager
Yena Ku

Exhibition Design
OUR LABOUR

Graphic Design
Sam Kim
Dokho Shin

Website
y!

Translation and Proofreading
Jae Ted Kim
Carlo Martiello
Marta Zimbardo
In A Hwang

Project Management
D.H. office

PR & External Affairs
ESteem, Speeker, Stylecracy

Shipping
ArtIn