Today's societal image obsession explored in "10000 Lives", Gwangju Biennale

KOREA ART BIENNALES IMAGE ART PHOTOGRAPHY DOCUMENTARY

Starting from the third of September this year and spanning sixty-six days, “Maninbo – 10000 Lives“, part of the eighth edition of the Gwangju Biennale, will focus on the 21st century’s obsession with images, journalistic or artistic. The Biennale presents itself as a “sprawling investigation of the relationships that bind people to images and images to people.” With works by more than a hundred artists created between 1901 and 2010, as well as several new commissions, the exhibition will be configured as a temporary museum that brings together artworks and cultural artifacts.

Hans-Peter Feldmann, '9/12 Frontpage (detail)', 2001, installation of 151 newspapers. © Hans-Peter Feldmann, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York.

Hans-Peter Feldmann, '9/12 Frontpage (detail)', 2001, installation of 151 newspapers. © Hans-Peter Feldmann. Image courtesy of 303 Gallery.

But why this focus on images? Biennale director Massimiliano Gioni, number 50 on Art Review‘s 2009 Power 100, explains:

Each day billions of images are produced and consumed. More than five hundred thousand images per second are uploaded to a single website. Americans alone take an average of five hundred and fifty snapshots per second. A record of fourteen million USD has been paid for the right to reproduce one single image. We seek comfort in images and carry out wars in their name, we congregate around images, we adore them, we crave for them, we consume them and destroy them.

The intriguing title of the exhibition comes from a thirty volume epic poem by Korean author Ko Un, called Maninbo or 10,000 Lives. The poem comprises over 3,800 portraits in words, describing every person Ko Un had ever met, including figures from history and literature. Like words for Ko Un, images for people today have come to be metonyms for cultures, people and events. While for most this seems to be a concept applicable more directly to photographs and documentary video, artists at the Gwangju Biennale have reportedly worked with a diverse range of media.

A significant part of the power of images today derives from the way the artist merges aesthetics or art with politics. The hundred life-size sculptures of the Rent Collection Courtyard that relate the suffering of the Chinese peasants at the hands of a tyrannical landlord, have become one of the foundational images of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and is being presented at the Gwangju Biennale in its entirety.

Zhao Shutong, Wang Guanyi and the Rent Collection Courtyard collective, 'Rent Collection Courtyard', 1974-78, 100 copper plated  fiberglass sculptures (exhibition view, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2009). © Norbert Miguletz. Image courtesy Gwangju Biennale Foundation.

Zhao Shutong, Wang Guanyi and the Rent Collection Courtyard collective, 'Rent Collection Courtyard', 1974-78, 100 copper plated fiberglass sculptures (exhibition view, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2009). © Norbert Miguletz. Image courtesy Gwangju Biennale Foundation.

The Rent Collection Courtyard was created between 1965 and 1978 by the students, artists and faculty of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and celebrates the power of images to educate and stir revolutions.

Hans-Peter Feldmann presents us a picture stamped on the minds of world populations. Presented as a collage of images that are distributed within the media, Feldmann produces an assertive archive of visual memory, its persistence hammered into the minds of those who view them.

The Gwangju Biennale was founded in 1995 in memory of the spirit of civil uprising resulting from the 1980 repression of the Gwangju Democratization Movement. In its eighth year, Gioni sums up his vision:

The exhibition 10,000 Lives attempts to present a series of case studies that explore our love for images and our need to create substitutes, effigies, and stands-ins for ourselves and our loved ones. The exhibition unravels as a gallery of portraits or as a dysfunctional family album. It tells the story of people through the images they create and the images they leave behind, but it also follows the lives of images themselves, tracing their endless metamorphoses, from funerary statue to commercial propaganda, from religious icon to scientific tool, from a mirror of ourselves to a projection of our desires.

The Gwangju Biennale will run from 3 September to 7 November this year.

AM/KN/HH

Related Topics: biennales, Korean venues, documentary art, photography, video art

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