The German Library Pyongyang


Library intervention, exhibtion and seminar, 2015-2016, Guangzhou (China), part of the 5th Guangzhou Triennial, China

From December 11, 2015 – April 10, 2016 the German Library in Guangzhou, China became The German Library and Information Centre Pyongyang, a reimagining of an initiative of the Goethe-Institut that originally operated in North Korea between 2004 and 2009. This temporal intervention by Sara van der Heide was an imaginary transformation of the geography of the German Library in Guangzhou.


The year 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the unification treaty between East and West Germany. Until today Korea is still divided in two: North and South Korea. “We are undertaking a risky experiment, because we want to be the first ones there when your country opens up." With these words, Jutta Limbach, the former president of the Goethe-Institut, opened the Office for German Academic and Technical Publishing at the Goethe-Institut’s Information Centre Pyongyang in secluded Communist North Korea on June 2, 2004. The library’s contents were negotiated over a two-year period, with the North Korean government pressing for academic literature on science, technology, and medicine, while the Goethe-Institut maintained that 50 percent of the books should pertain to German culture, language, literature, and music. The Goethe-Institut not only believed that Germany could be an example for Korea in the unification process, but also that through Bach and German literature, Germany could contribute eventually in uniting the two Koreas. This extraordinary initiative was perhaps bound to fail, and eventually the library would exist no more than five years.


 

Due to its reclusive politics, communication between North and South Korea is minimal. For example, there is intranet in North Korea, but no internet connectivity with the rest of the world. Therefore, today’s understanding of North Korea is deeply influenced by foreign powers and especially by the United States. Currently, the United States still maintains a military base in South Korea, while Korea’s history is already marked by foreign rule in the past and especially Japanese colonization. After decades of Japanese occupation, the Korean War started, which in North Korea is referred to as “The Fatherland Liberation War;” in China the conflict is officially called “War to Resist Aggression from the United States of America and Aid Korea.” Kim II-Sung, the first leader of North Korea, was one of the key figures in fighting against Japanese occupation and American authority. Pride in its autonomy and resistance toward American influence are still the major pillars of North Korean society today.

 

Van der Heide's German Library Pyongyang project is a contemporary version of the Goethe-Institut’s original library initiative in North Korea, devised as a vessel to discuss national cultural policy in a post-Cold War and postcolonial era that looks critically toward the parallel histories of Germany and the two Koreas. The cultural program conducted by the artist invites discussion that spurns the dissolution of the grand modern narratives of capitalism and Communism. The German Library Pyongyang offers a space for critical questions, but it also functions as a context for transcending thinking that is prescribed by the lines of the nation state, language and geography. The several subtle artistic, linguistic, and graphic interventions in the library merge with the continuing activities of the German learning center in Guangzhou, only that all institutional printed matter in Chinese is replaced by Korean. During the seminar that took place on December 13, 2015, the wish for peace and unification between North and South Korea were discussed through various artistic presentations and forms.

 

Unfortunately the library exhibition, the seminar and the exhibition booklets were censored in China.

 

In 2017 a publication was published by Sternberg Press: The German Library Pyongyang by Sara van der Heide & Guests. With contributions by Anselm Franke, Changho Choi, Chankyong Park, Chen Tong, Dongyoung Lee, Egon Hanfstingl, Gabriele Stötzer / Künstlerinnengruppe Erfurt, Hans Haacke, Henk Slager, Janet Grau, Kyungman Kim, Liu Ding, Louwrien Wijers, Rory Pilgrim, Sora Kim.


more info: www.thegermanlibrarypyongyang.de