The Korea pavilion has been a part of the Venice Architecture Biennale since 1993, when the optimism of the post-Berlin Wall era made reunification between North and South Korea seem plausible. But getting equal representation from both Northern and Southern architects in 2014 has proved nearly impossible -- architects from the North would never seek individualized attention for their work, their practice entirely determined by guidelines set in stone by "Kim Jong-il's Architectural Theory".
Minsuk Cho, principal of Mass Studies in Seoul and the curator of Korea's 2014 pavilion, thought he'd have to give up on the idea of a joint North-South effort when communications with North Korea fizzled out, without explanation. This year's Biennale's theme, "Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014", is particularly relevant for Korea, considering both North and South remade their political and architectural landscapes after the Korean War, in the midst of mid-century modernism's development and the biennale's timeframe. Pyongyang developed according to a socialist master plan that persists today, while Seoul became an emblem for rapid capitalization. The pavilion would compare the divergent architectures of North and South.
So when North Korea didn't volunteer any materials for the exhibition, Minsuk Cho turned to outside sources, gathering representations of North Korean architecture from non-Koreans (according to an article published by The Korea Herald). While a somewhat informal collections method, this turned out to be more reliable than going to the source. Fascination with North Korea's secrecy and isolationism invests a curatorial significance into every piece of ephemera, and has helped Min-suk flesh out the pavilion with paintings, propaganda posters, and photographs. German architect Philipp Meuser (author of a architectural guide to Pyongyang), and British businessman Nick Bonner contributed a variety of materials, including both primary source documents and original creations. This style of curation emphasizes the problematics of "nationalized" architecture pavilions, and takes a country's global reputation into consideration. In a way, it's a journalistic exhibition, seeking to uncover what is usually hidden.
The exhibition, "Crow's Eye View: The Korean Peninsula" is on display at the Venice Architecture Biennale from June 7 to November 23.