Born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1969.
He lives and works in Seoul.
Through his work, Im Heung-soon attempts to listen to and sympathize with the never-ending struggles of those who have been abandoned for the sake of economic achievement, both in developing countries and in the postwar conditions of such Asian countries as South Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia. His earlier works—such as urban research project Seongnam Project (1998–1999) and the short films Basement My Love (2000) and Memento (2003)—and his long-term engagement in community-based projects have often investigated scenes of classification and issues regarding industrial immigrant laborers, including social minorities, in Korea’s rapacious neoliberal society. His film Jeju Prayer (2012) revisits the uprising on Jeju Island from April 1948 until May 1949, when thousands of citizens were massacred in a process of communist eradication carried out by the South Korean army. Making this film raised the artist’s awareness of the trauma experienced by elderly women who witnessed that brutal violence, his camera notably lingering on their strong silence. Observing the relationship between national mythic rhetoric on the sacrifice of people and those who were suppressed, neglected, and impoverished under authoritarian rule, Im Heung-soon explores how the wounds of civilians’ sacrifices in recent history are remembered today.
At the Biennale di Venezia, Im Heung-soon will introduce a new full-length documentary, Factory Complex (2014), in which he considers how women have been victimized through the realities of labor in Asia. The film opens with a scene of street demonstrations by immigrant labor groups in Seoul, then considers South Korean labor exploitation in the 1970s and ’80s, and ends by revealing another dark moment in recent history, the gunfire directed at underpaid women protesting at a Korean company’s garment factory in Cambodia. Factory Complex exposes the shady past and present of global Korean corporations that turn their backs on poor labor conditions. The story spans generations of mothers and daughters, from the developing countries of the past to those of the present. Through interviews with female Korean workers from the 1970s to today, the film investigates the miserable labor conditions of endless work that encroaches on our lives under the banner of neoliberalism, contributing only to our own anxiety. In the process, it exposes destitute lives that cannot improve even through endless work—particularly the lives of women who are marginalized in all working conditions.
In addition to conducting solemn, revealing interviews with those who led some of the most fervent struggles and demonstrations, the artist juxtaposes their stories with images that imply a difficult, grim reality and emotional agony that cannot be expressed in words. By presenting the perspective of the women who have been suffering in this tough reality, this film asks an important question: What constitutes true social “growth” in an expanding economy?