The House of Mnemosyne / Dahyoung Chung

The Korean Pavilion, the most recently built national pavilion in Giardini, was designed by Italian architect Franco Mancuso and Kim Seok Chul (1943–2016), who was a member of the Urban Design Division at KECC. Within the pavilion was a grid system to house an exhibition where two archives and new works by participating artists and architects could be displayed. As Professor Hyungmin Pai noted, the Korean Pavilion looks more like a house than an exhibition space. It is the size of a house and is private as well. Brickwork on the exterior, the two-story cylindrical space, and the entrance made with a light steel frame give the impression that the building has many functions like that of a house.1 The square brick shed, the only feature that has been left as it was when it was built, is the starting point of the exhibition as the origin of the house. It is hidden like a bedroom and serves as a “mechanism of memory.” It contains the early history of KECC around 1968 when Kim Swoo Geun was its president and is a reference point for the new works created by contemporary artists in the exhibition. The Absent Archive is about the KECC projects that, despite being built, were not fully written into history. These include Sewoon Sangga (1967), The 1st Korea Trade Fair (1968), Yeouido Master Plan (1969), and the Expo ’70 Korean Pavilion (1970). The architects’ concepts attracted people’s attention, but some aspects of their plans were not approved by the government and thus amended or removed. Some of the results of these compromises have been kept in the institutional archive in fragments. The KECC architects’ initial ideas that were not realized in full are not representative of how the spaces turned out, but rather serve to remind us of the gulf and conflict between reality and the ideal. The Absent Archive is a paradoxical space that collects such failed ideals. It reconsiders the reputation of the architects and their principles, which were not recorded and left only in drawings and reports. Space, which Kim Swoo Geun published with the support of Kim Jong Pil and Jungseon Seok, was the only publication to distribute such ideas to the public. The Absent Archive reinterprets the magazine as a manifestation of the state avant-garde.

Meanwhile, the Emergent Archive, which is located in the “living room” of the house, is an ambiguous area that exists only to create certain situations for visitors. Artists’ and architects’ work are on display on the way from “the dark bedroom” to “the bright living room.” It is a borderless archive area under the open skylights and dazzling stainless steel. The short texts, images and the audience’s reactions overlap in the illusion while the works of participating architects and artists illuminate each other. In Korea a living room is described as a public space, even in the home, which is a private space most of the time. Kim Swoo Geun described a future Seoul as “a living room for citizens” in an article in the newspaper Seoul Shinmun from 1972. Like a Korean living room, this archive is a space that can be compared with a salon where stories are shared, rather than a space with a specific purpose. It contains works by photographer Kyoungtae Kim and media artist Hyun-Suk Seo. A montage of memories about the four projects that appear and disappear like spectres is sealed through the photography of Kyoungtae Kim. Hyun-Suk Seo captures the inflected vision of Seoul that haunts the city like a parallel universe in his film. As “a ‘beyond the archive’ that remains inaccessible to its finding tools,”2 this space is where we hope to create a new lens through which to view states, architecture, and the avant-garde, incorporating fragmented memories from the past.

excerpted from ‘The House of Mnemosyne’, Spectres of the State Avant-garde (Seoul: Propaganda, 2018)

1 Hyungmin Pai, “Dwelling on the Korean Pavilion” in Common Pavilions: The National Pavilions in the Giardini of the Venice Biennale in Essays And Photographs, ed. Diener & Diener Architects with Gabriele Basilico (Zurich : Scheidegger & Spiess, 2013), p. 263.

2 Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), p. 3.