Navigation ID 2014. Live broadcast intervention at the press opening day of Burning Down the House, the 10th Gwangju Biennale.
Photo by Taekyong Jung


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.

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?


*** Navigation ID deals with the families of the victims who lost their lives in the civilian massacres during the Korean War. In South Korea, the massacres were conducted by the South Korean army. Throughout the country, there are many sites where the bodies are buried. Many of them haven’t been investigated and examined properly.

Translated by Jaeyong Park

인터뷰 매거진 EMILY MCDERMOTT과의 대화

Hi Minouk,
-Where are you at the moment? I know you are preparing for an upcoming solo shows at Portikus and PLATEAU—what are you preparing for each of them?

서울에 있다. Portikus에서는 뉴스룸 형식의 설치를 하고 말로 하기 힘든 뉴스를 전하려고 한다. 2012년에 선보인 The Possibility of Half 뉴스 스튜디오 포맷에서 2014년 제 10회 광주비엔날레 프레스 오프닝 때 했던 Navigation ID 를 소개하는 방식이다. United Paradox라고 전시 제목을 지었다. Plateau 미술관에서도 역시 비슷한 포맷일 것이다. 상상의 방송국이 마련되고 모순의 공동체에 대해 말할 것이다.

-Much of your work deals with the rapidly changing aspects of Seoul. Why are you drawn to this as subject matter?

살면서 항상 불안했던 것 같다. 두려운 걸 멈추려면 붙잡는 수밖에 없다. 어려서부터 늘 공사장 소음을 듣고 자랐고 불도저가 보였다. 전쟁만이 아니라 뉴타운 프로젝트와 같은 건설도 친구와 이웃을 헤어지게 하고 관계를 파괴한다는 걸 알았다. 사람이 사라지는 곳에 살고 있다는 자각이 있다. 사라진 것과 보이지 않는 것을 쫓아가고 마주하고 다시 질문하고 싶어하는 것, 작가가 하지 경제가 해주나?

-Growing up in Seoul, how did you first become interested in art? Were you parents artistic? Did you go to museums? Etc.

내가 어렸을적 부모님은 서울로 갓 상경해서 형편이 어려웠고 난 자주 아팠다고 한다. 그런데 열 살적에 우연히 리틀엔젤스 예술실기대회에 나갔다가 입상을 했다. 거기서 리틀엔젤스 예술학교 입학금을 부상으로 받게 되니까 비싼 예술학교 다닐 형편이 못되는데 공짜라서 부모님이 보냈다. 그 이후 예술중고등학교 대학교까지 회화를 전공하게 되었다. 그런데 어느 날, 대학교에서 미술비평을 하는 시간이 있었는데 생각을 말하라 해서 손을 들고 유일하게 말했다. 삽화아니냐고. 그랬더니 교수가 화를 내고 반성문을 써오라고 했다. 그래서 대학 졸업을 얼마 안두고 파리로 떠났다. 예술이 뭔지 비로소 묻기 시작한 계기였다. 그래서 그 사건을 감사하게 여긴다.

-You work through various mediums, including performance. Do you ever feel like it's hard to separate performance from everyday life?

물론 그렇다. 항상 현실이 그 어떤 퍼포먼스보다 더 강렬하고 믿기 어려운 일들로 가득해 보인다. 아름다운 순간도 많고, 공포스럽고 말로 형용하기 어려운 순간들도 많다. 그러나 대부분은 중력에서 못벗어난다. 분단국가에서 산다는 것은 일상이 항상 벽 같은 어딘가에 부딪히게 되있다는 걸 뜻한다. 뼈는 물론 뼈 속까지 색깔론과 이념의 잣대로 네 편, 내 편, 적과 우리를 구분하는 나라에서 예술이 무얼 할 수 있을까. 북한처럼 미학이 수령님과 당에 의해 결정되는 나라에서 무슨 퍼포먼스가 가능할까.. 그런데 오늘날의 미디어를 지켜보면 예술이 '더' 해야 하는 일이 있다는 것을 오히려 선명하게 느낀다.

정보는 망각을 위해 존재하니까. 나는 종종 퍼포먼스나 오브제, 그리고 이미지와 텍스트를 다루면서 특별한 재주를 가진 전문가가 되겠다는 생각보다 함께 할 수 있는 일로 전시를 하거나 퍼포먼스를 기획하게 된 것 같다. 허구보다 일상의 재료와 인물들을 다시 배치해서 보여줄 뿐이다. 지금 이 곳이 이상적인 사회라면 우리 모두가 미적 노동자로서 더 이상 퍼포먼스를 할 필요가 없는 일상을 살아가고 있는 것이다. 그런데 정말 그런가?

-Will you be in Venice for the Biennale?
그럴려고 했으나 포티쿠스 개인전 13일 오픈 준비때문에 어떻게 될지 아직 모르겠다.

-How did you first become involved with the Absolut Art Award?
누가 추천했는지도 모르는 체로 프로포잘을 보내라는 메일을 받았다

-What will you do with the prize money if you win?!
내비게이션 아이디 를 하면서 못다한 것이 많다. 빈 땅이 빈 땅이 아니더라. 억압받는 것에 도전하고 슬픔을 덜어내는 일에 쓰고 싶다.