[Newsmaker] Im wins highest honor for Korean in Venice

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 10, 2015 - 20:44
  • Updated : May 10, 2015 - 21:01

Im Heung-soon, the winner of the Silver Lion award at this year’s Venice Biennale for his documentary “Factory Complex,” has gained recognition for entwining art and film in his documentaries that reflect on society, its people and their histories.

The artist goes by a number of titles ― cinematographer, director and scriptwriter. With a bachelor’s and master’s degree in painting from Kyungwon University (now Gachon University), Im has straddled the boundaries of art, photography and media while delivering heavily-charged social messages.

His most recent work, “Factory Complex,” deals with the labor issues of women in South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and other Asian countries. The judging committee, upon awarding the documentary the exhibition’s second highest honor of Silver Lion on May 9, called it a work that “comes face-to-face with its subjects” and “subtly probes into the core of the instability related to the labor conditions of Asian women.” 

South Korean artist Im Heung-soon, holding his Silver Lion, poses for photographers at the 56th Biennale of Arts in Venice, Italy, Saturday. (AP-Yonhap)

By juxtaposing personal interviews and experimental images, the 108-minute film weaves in and out of the workers’ past and present, artistically recreating the history of women laborers from the 1960s to current times.

The documentary traces the stories of factory laborers such as Shin Soon-ae, who works at a sewing factory, and Kim Jin-sook, who works in heavy industries, alongside an industrial landscape ― ultimately raising questions on the meaning of labor, which has become both a central yet wearisome part of our lives, said Arts Council Korea.

In his acceptance speech, Im thanked “the many women who have lived with principles in their everyday life and work.”

The artist also revealed that he prepared the documentary since 2010 as a tribute to his family.

“The film is inspired by my mother, who worked in a lowly assisting job for over 40 years at a sewing factory, and my younger sister, who has worked at clothing shops and the frozen food aisle at department stores,” he told reporters.

“Factory Complex” comes after the 2013 “Jeju Prayer,” Im’s first full-length documentary and a 93-minute recollection of the 1948 Jeju Uprising ― a rebellion that followed the shooting of protesters rallying against the government.

Im’s Silver Lion award marks the highest honor yet received by a Korean participant at the Venice Biennale, a 120-year-old biennial contemporary art exhibition held in Venice, Italy, with 53 countries and 136 artists having participated this year.

Past South Korean participants include Jeon Soo-cheon (1995), Kang Ik-joong (1997) and Lee Bul (1999), whose works were invited to Korea’s national pavilion, among the 30 permanent national pavilions that the exhibition hosts.

Im’s film, however, is the first Korean work to receive a prize at the central pavilion, or international exhibition, which this year also invited Korean artists Kim Ah-young and Nam Hwa-yeon.

The award should be doubly meaningful for the 46-year-old Im, considering that the Silver Lion has customarily gone to younger artists under 35.

By Rumy Doo (bigbird@heraldcorp.com)