Discovering the Past

Multi-media artist Minouk Lim engages with the cultural veins that run throughout Seoul—the streets. Through performance, video, documentary, and photography, Lim addresses the South Korean city’s rapid development—which can be interpreted as a type of colonization—and the resultant disruptions of daily life for its inhabitants. In her video New Town Ghost (2005), for example, a slam poet with a microphone raps about these changes, while driving through one of the city’s “new towns,” pointing toward the development of high-rise, contemporary residential buildings that frequently lead to the forcible evictions of long-time residents. A week from today, Lim will perform Firecliff 5, a new piece that is part of her ongoing series “Firecliff” (2010-present), at the Portikus museum in Frankfurt to mark the opening of her first solo exhibition in Europe, “Untitled Paradox.”

The exhibition will focus upon Lim’s most recent work, Navigation ID (2014), which was first presented at the Gwangju Biennale last year. This work is a continual investigation of the civilian massacres committed by the South Korean government during the Korean War in the 1950s. In addition to the show at Portikus, Lim is also a finalist for the Absolut Art Award, and if she wins, the 100,000 Euro award will help her expand upon Navigation ID even further.

“I want to use the money to challenge what is oppressed and help reduce the sorrow of the people,” Lim says.

Tomorrow, the winner of the award will be announced in Venice, coinciding with the opening of the 56th Venice Biennale. Prior to the announcement and the opening of “Untitled Paradox,” we spoke with Lim about her origins as an artist.

EMILY MCDERMOTT: Can you tell me about what are you preparing for your upcoming show at Portikus? 

MINOUK LIM: For Portikus, I will install a kind of newsroom and deliver news with stories that are difficult to tell through languages. It will be a mixture of different works, like the format of the newsroom is from a 2012 work The Possibility of Half, [but] Navigation ID is also included in the installation. Later in the year, I have a solo show at PLATEAU [a gallery in Seoul], and the general format of the exhibition will not be dramatically different. There will be an imaginary broadcasting studio, which tells about a community of paradox. 

MCDERMOTT: You’re working on both of these from Seoul, and much of your work deals with the rapidly changing aspects of the city. Why are you drawn to this as subject matter? 

LIM: I might say that Seoul itself is not the subject matter of my work. Rather, I feel like I’m a person holding funerals for things that are sacrificed by the ideology of speed, where everything must be done quickly. I feel anxiety all the time and if you want to stop something that you fear, you have to grab it. When I was young, I grew up hearing the sound of construction sites and seeing bulldozers. I realized that it is not only the war, but also construction projects—like building New Towns [a term used to describe large redevelopment plans that frequently involve forced evictions and aggressive policies]—that separate friends and neighbors and destroy relationships. I am conscious that I am living in a place where people are disappearing. I am doing what artists can do but the economy cannot do, which is to trace the disappeared and the invisible, encounter them, and question them once again.

MCDERMOTT: So growing up in Seoul amongst this chaos, how did you first become interested in art? Were you parents artistic? 

LIM: My parents moved to Seoul when I was really young and what I heard is that they were not affluent and I was sick often. Then one day, I participated in an art competition organized by the Little Angels [one of the oldest and most well-known children’s dance troupes in Korea that runs various art schools and is part of the Korean Cultural Foundation]. I received an award and was given a chance to enter an art school run by the foundation. It was an expensive school but it was free for me, so my parents decided to send me there. Then I majored in painting from the middle school through university.

When I was in my last year at university, there was a class for art criticism. The professor told the students to tell their thoughts, I was the only one who said anything, and then he lost his temper and told me to write an apology. I quit the university and moved to Paris. It was the first time when I questioned myself about the meaning of art.

MCDERMOTT: And then you began working with various mediums, including performance. Do you ever feel like it’s hard to separate performance from everyday life?

KIM: I think so. The reality, the everyday life seems to be more intensive than any kind of performance—full of things that are unbelievable. There are so many beautiful moments as well as horrifying and unexplainable moments. However, most of them cannot go beyond the gravity of the reality. Living in a divided country means that one’s everyday life is bound to collide with some kind of walls. This is a country where people divide themselves with others by political orientations and ideologies. What can art do here in this country? What kind of performance would work in a place where aesthetics succumb to the dear leader of the country, like its North Korean counterpart? However, watching the mass media in the country, I feel that there are things that art should do “more.”

What I mean is that information in our society exists for the sake of oblivion. For this reason, I do exhibitions or performances not as a single person that leads everything, but as an organizer that does things together with others while dealing with objects, images, and texts. It is more of reactivating everyday materials and people than presenting a fiction. If we are living in an ideal society, there is no need to do a performance since we shall all be aesthetic laborers—but is it the case?