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Comrades of Construction: The South Korean Pavilion

Winner of the Golden Lion and one of the Biennale’s most politically charged exhibitions, the South Korean Pavilion retraces both North and South Korea’s paths through Modernism, hinting at the potential of a reunified whole

South Korea’s Crow’s Eye View examines the differing paths through Modernism that South and North Korea have taken. It is one of the most politically charged and ambitious projects at the Biennale, presenting an epic panorama of architecture across the divided state, focused around four key topics.

Reconstructing Life uses photography to compare how architecture has been harnessed to create national identities in Pyongyang and Seoul, the towering, concrete ambition of the former lying eerily empty in contrast to the bustling capitalism of the latter. Monumental State looks at architecture either side of the border: anonymous socialist edifices versus creative individualism. Less successful is the examination of the border itself. ‘The most militarised and politically charged boundary in the world’ is a rich topic, but the content is hard to penetrate.

Most engaging is Utopian Tours, an exhibition of the brave new world of North Korean architects’ imagination. A collection of paintings illustrates a Jetsons-style future vision, all towering glass spires and glass bubble trains, complete with hover-ships overhead. Produced by architects and students at North Korea’s state institutions, these rare artefacts from the notoriously closed country reveal an architectural culture formed in isolation since the 1940s.

Perhaps inevitably given its ambition, at times the show loses the overall narrative under the sheer amount of material. This is a minor quibble, and overall Crow’s Eye View is a fascinating insight into one of the world’s most intractable and least understood cultural conflicts. It contrasts the North’s vision of itself with glimpses of the reality set alongside the South’s attempts to understand its neighbour, and hints at the potential of a reunified whole.

Crow’s Eye View

Curated by Minsuk Cho

Photography by Iwan Baan

Posters and ink paintings from the Nick Bonner Collection

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