Memory of Germany
Installation of 4 video players, 4 monitors,4 chairs, 1 slide projection, 4 ton lumps of coal, offect prints, National Museum of Contemporary Art Korea, 2000
The memories collected (particularly of the Korean coal miners dispatched) in Germany, have been displayed in an installation work using video, offset prints, photographs, together with a combination of other materials.
The installation holds the memory of the many Korean coal miners, dispatched in Germany during the 1960’s and 1970’s, by recording each and everyone’s names on the four walls of the square exhibition hall. All the names of the miners have been printed on large sheets of paper to recollect their presence in the room. Whilst the floor has been covered with lumps of German coal and four visual monitors have been placed in between them. They show recorded interviews with the various different Korean coal miners. In front of them, four chairs have been placed so that anyone who sits there can become a part of the interview, simultaneously sharing the experiences of these people.
Different dates, times, numbers, images and incidents, which may appear meaningless to the average person but which signify the Korean miners, are projected on to one of the four walls as the photographic images.
I believe that people begin to take an interest to question about their identity as the boundaries between nations and peoples become less definite. Especially, when one has to confront two extremities – when the society one is born from, differs from the society one chooses to live in. This is the main concept behind this exhibition, “Memory of Germany”. Recently, I have been dwelling on this particular notion of finding one’s identity between the extremes of two different cultures.
Most of the Korean people in Germany, have resided there for about twenty-five to thirty years. When they first came to Germany, they were no more than twenty-five or twenty-nine years of age. They spent half of their lives in a place other than their native homeland. Furthermore, because of the difficult German immigration laws, it was not easy for these people to settle in a foreign land. Of course, there were those, who came to study in Germany but the majority came to work as workmen in coal mines and hospitals. I have looked specifically on the Korean coal miners for this exhibition.
Between 1963 and 1977, approximately eight thousand Korean coal miners were dispatched to work in German mines. They were on a three contract to work and reside in Germany. After the agreed period, many returned to home because of the harsh immigration laws but some remained on by finding various different jobs.
The interviews conducted for this exhibition, are of the miners who settled in Germany. The task of interviewing these miners was not easy because many of them had faded memories of the 60’s and 70’s. Furthermore, they found it very difficult to recollect and confront the circumstances that literally forces them come to Germany in the first place.
In their voices, I could feel their isolation from the German society - like a severed island within a nation. Their longing had not been, and still is not, for their native land or for their complete adjustment in Germany, but they aspired their ideal world. Therefore, I am examining the conflicting circumstances surrounding the alienation of a person’s identity when one discovers that the individual aspiration of one’s ideal does not coincide with one’s actual state of existence.
I have tried to visualize the miners thirty years back. Coming to Germany with different ideals and hopes. Then of their lives in nostalgia longing for their homelands each time they step into the deep German mines. I lay each piece of coal in memory of them and I write the names of every workman who have become long forgotten. Then I record the date 27 December 1963, October 1964, 23 November 1964, March 1965, 25 October 1977, the day they turned they backs to their homeland.
I have tried to recount the memories of the Korean miners as vividly as possible and I have endeavoured in recording the true images of these people as how they are now, after 30 years of living in Germany.
The exhibition, “Memory of Germany”, tries to recall the forgotten truth about the bleak period of the economical development in Korea, when a large number of workmen were dispatched to many different countries throughout the world. Whether the memory is objective or subjective, I have expressed my views in a variety of materials.
12th July 2000