Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang 

From 19-21 April 2013 the German Goethe-Institut Amsterdam became the Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang, which existed between 2004-2009 in North Korea. This temporal intervention by Sara van der Heide was an imaginary transformation of the current geography of the Goethe-Institut in The Netherlands.

Sign painting (facade): Moonsick Gang
Design: Moonsick Gang and Daniel Nørregaard
Photography: Johannes Schwartz
The Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang was developed as part of Interventions 02, curated by Christina Li, on invitation by the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam

Weekend Programme
Friday evening:
Welcome by: Barbara Honrath
Reading of excerpts from Fantasy Residency in North Korea: Please don’t take off the lids. The pots are empty written by Jooyoung Lee
Screening: Berlinmuren from Lars Laumann
Saturday evening:
Talk between Charles Esche and Barbara Honrath, moderated by Sara van der Heide
Filmprogramme by Sascha Pohle
Sunday evening:
Filmprogramme by Sascha Pohle*
Jasna Veličković: piano and music performance Shadow Study and Good Bach 
Clarence Barlow: radio play Deutscher Sang
Filmprogramme by Sascha Pohle*
*film programme with films found in the attic of the Goethe-Institut by Sascha Pohle

Daily: An exhibition with works from: Sascha Pohle and Sara van der Heide

More information and extensive programme:
Goethe-Institut Amsterdam

Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang - Amsterdam, April 19-21, 2013
Wir wagen ein Experiment, denn wir wollen als Erste dabei sein, wenn Ihr Land beginnt, sich zu öffnen.” (We are undertaking a risky experiment, because we want to be the first present 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 2 June 2004. Also known as the Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang, this extraordinary initiative of the Institute was perhaps bound to fail, and eventually, the Reading Room would exist no more than five years. The room’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% of the books should pertain to German culture, language, literature and music. Importantly, free access was to be granted to local audiences and no censorship imposed. Later however, repeated reports emerged that North Korean authorities had tried to deter people from entering the Reading Room, and that they also attempted to censor its contents. As a result, in 2009, the Reading Room was closed.

Besides the re-opening of the reading room the weekend (April 19-21, 2013) will offer through the programming a set of different reflections on the Goethe-Institut’s history, function and place in promoting German culture and language since its’ establishment after WWII across various political contexts and countries. Within the setting of the Reading Room Pyongyang, a host of performances, talks, and experimental music concerts will take place in the evening. The weekend opening hours will extend into the night, creating a temporal connection between the time zones of Pyongyang and Amsterdam, prompting a modus for imagination and dreaming in bridging these two opposite worlds.

The access to books and media is normally taken for granted, and with the internet the function of the physical library might have become an obsolete place. This weekend may lead to a possible re-evalutaion of the position of the library and shows that free access to books and uncensored news is of invaluable asset and is intrinsically connected to a democratic society. The lists of books, DVDs, and CDs available in the Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang between 2004-2009 will be disclosed at the Herengracht venue. By replacing all the Dutch texts present inside the Goethe-Insitut Amsterdam with Korean, the location is transformed from a site in the Netherlands into one in North Korea. The only stable factor in this transition is the language of German, which remains the same regardless of where a Goethe-Institut is situated. Moonsick Gang’s painted sign for instance, is displayed in the windows facing the street, and translates from Korean as: Institute for German Culture. His temporary transcription makes us conscious of our own cultural positions and the role of language in articulating these.

Sara van der Heide likes to thank for realizing the 'Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang' (2013): Christina Li, Barbara Honrath, Melanie Mühler, Barbara Munzer, Wolfgang Scheiber; the staff of the Goethe-Insitut Amsterdam and the Goethe-Institut Headquarters Munich, Germany, Goethe-Institut Seoul, South Korea and Uwe Schmelter; Charles Esche, Lars Laumann, Moonsick Gang and Daniel Nørregaard

During the weekend these two works were part of the weekend as well:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has a House in 160 Places, 2013

160 business cards, displayed in alphbetical order at the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam

In 2013 The Goethe-Institut had 160 institutions across the world promoting German language and culture, funded by the Federal Republic of Germany. On 160 individual business cards, the Goethe-Institut’s namesake, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), is printed together with each address of the global Goethe Institutes. These familiar objects offer an alternative means of mapping the ubiquity and lingering imperial implications of national cultural institutes in a globalised terrain. The business cards show that the person Johann Wolfgang von Goethe embodied a poet, a politician, a scientist, a theater play writer and a novelist.

Zur Farbenlehre, Colour and Background (after Goethe), 2011
Oil paint on linen, wood and glass prism, 2.4m(h) x 2m(w)

Goethe’s Zur Farbenlehre (1805) is a folded, standing table-screen displaying abstract colour fields and will be on view in the Goethe-Institut. The composition and primary colours in this work immediately bring to mind early 20th century abstract painting, such as that of Mondriaan. Zur Farbenlehre is one example of Goethe’s colour schemes, which he developed in relation to Sir Issac Newton’s discovery that light is made up of particles of different colours. Goethe took a more contextual approach, showing that background colour plays an important role in making other colours visible when light breaks through a prism. This reference to 19th century science and aesthetics offers a poignant reminder of the influence of Enlightenment thinking on our own contemporary perceptions of the world.

photography by Johannes Schwartz at the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam, 2013
'Zur Farbenlehre, Colour and Background', (after J.W. von Goethe) (2011)
Oil paint on linen, wood and glass prism, 2.4m(h) x 2m(w)