Gwangju Biennale 2012: Curatorial genius or chaos?

Multiple curators and multiple themes set the stage for a complex biennale.

With six co-directors and six overlapping sub-themes, the 9th Gwangju Biennale, to be held from 7 September to 11 November 2012, presents an unparalleled collaborative effort. But with so many directors and directions will it be possible to produce a cogent and compelling event?

Craig Walsh and Hiromi Tango, 'Home-Gwangju', 2012, mixed media installation. Commission for	ROUNDTABLE: The 9th Gwangju Biennale,	Gwangju, Korea. Image courtesy of the artist.

Craig Walsh and Hiromi Tango, 'Home-Gwangju', 2012, mixed media installation. Commission for ROUNDTABLE: The 9th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, Korea. Image courtesy the artist.

A curatorial vision of “linkages and collisions”

Curatorial collaboration is key

ROUNDTABLE, the theme for the 2012 edition of the Gwangju Biennale, serves as both a title and a metaphor to describe the working relationship of the co-directors, as well as their expectations for discourse and interaction at the event. As noted in a recent e-flux announcement: “[The ROUNDTABLE] structure acknowledges the impossibility of unconditional collaboration and the potential for non-hierarchical exchange.”

6 (Yes, 6!) artistic directors

While a pair or trio of biennale co-curators is common in today’s art world, Gwangju may, with six curators at the helm simultaneously, be breaking new ground. The six Co-Artistic Directors include Nancy Adajania (India), Wassan Al-Khudhairi (Qatar), Mami Kataoka (Japan), Sunjung Kim (Korea), Carol Yinghua Lu (China) and Alia Swastika (Indonesia).

Interwoven sub-themes

The directorial team selected artists, art works, event design, projects and programmes that would allow for the creation of a unique condition in which dialogue could be furthered around six key sub-themes: Logging In and Out of Collectivity; Re-visiting History; Transient Encounters; Intimacy, Autonomy and Anonymity; Back to the Individual Experience; Impact of Mobility on Space and Time.

Spacial design contributes to curatorial vision

Even the exhibition layout is designed to play a role in facilitating discussion framed by these six themes. In response to an inquiry by Art Radar, the organisers stated,

As in the overall structure and development of ROUNDTABLE, such linkages and collisions will also be reflected in the non-linear and non-compartmentalised layout of the exhibition. The audience will not see separate artist/artwork groupings of subthemes exhibited, but rather the art works will be integrated with each other, guided by various forms of connectivity among different artists/art works from the six subsections into a spatial-conversational whole.

Analysis, exchange trump resolution 

The impossibility of reaching satisfying conclusions on any of the subthemes was, the directorial team makes clear, understood from the beginning. As stated in a recent press release,

By design, these sub-themes overlap and at times take oppositional views on the role of the individual or the collective. The act of curation is thus a synthesis – a series of collisions that leads to transformation and cross contamination.

A precedent for this kind of multi-layered, collective artist arrangement can be seen as recently as the 11th Lyon Biennale (2011), curated by Victoria Noorthoorn. In this exhibition, artists were informed of their fellow participants’ projects and were given the opportunity to respond to each other’s work. As Noorthoorn stated in an interview with The Art Newspaper, the thematic structure was “an attempt to reflect a tension or paradoxical quality rather than establish a grand subject”. The 9th Gwangju Biennale seems on track to provide a similar experience.

Aki Sasamoto, 'Centrifugal', March 2012, performance/installation, room size mixed media installation with scheduled performances. Commission for ROUNDTABLE: The 9th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, Korea. Photo by Daisuke Yamashiro. Image courtesy of the artist.

Aki Sasamoto, 'Centrifugal', March 2012, performance/installation, room size mixed media installation with scheduled performances. Commission for ROUNDTABLE: The 9th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, Korea. Photo by Daisuke Yamashiro. Image courtesy the artist.

Do Ho Suh, 'Rubbing Project – Gwangju Catholic University Lifelong Institute', 2012. Documentation photo taken of work in progress. Colored	pencil on paper, plywood, aluminum, frame, monitor, video player, 3,022 x 3,84 x 2,590 cm. Commission for ROUNDTABLE: The 9th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, Korea. Image courtesy of the artist.

Do Ho Suh, 'Rubbing Project – Gwangju Catholic University Lifelong Institute', 2012. Documentation photo taken of work in progress. Coloured pencil on paper, plywood, aluminium, frame, monitor, video player, 3,022 x 3,84 x 2,590 cm. Commission for ROUNDTABLE: The Ninth Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, Korea. Image courtesy the artist.

Engaging a wider audience

Residencies, “Workstations” and “E-Journals” 

ROUNDTABLE will include 43 new commissions and a number of site-specific works.

In addition, with the goal of engaging with a wider audience, a series of “Workstations”, curated conversations with representatives from a variety of disciplines, and “E-Journals”, online documentation of conversations about, and a selection of commissioned essays on, the show sub-themes, will be offered.

The event will also sponsor fifteen residencies including process-based installations and performance pieces, many of which require interaction between artists and the Gwangju community.

Artist selection a group decision

Of the 44 countries represented and 92 artists, artist groups and temporary collectives participating in ROUNDTABLE over half are from Asia. What is unique about the artists for this biennale, however, is not their makeup but the process by which they were selected.

According to the organisers:

The set of artists and art works selected for this year’s biennale differ not only from previous Gwangju Biennales but most biennales in that the artists and art works were selected through the unprecedented collaboration of six directors/curators, which falls outside of the usual frame of single or joint directorships/curatorships. In the way that the six sub-themes of the biennale emerged through the ongoing conversation among the six co-directors, the artists and art works were not predetermined by each separate director for her subtheme. Rather, these selections were part of the very collaborative process that characterises both the ethos and practice of ROUNDTABLE. The artists and art works thus embody the impossibility of unanimity or unconditional collaboration while challenging us to consider a new kind of unity or whole that arises from the connections as well as collisions (of social, geographical, political and personal histories and experiences) among the co-directors as much as the selected art works and artists.

Asian artists participating in the Gwangju Biennale

The selection of artists from Asia include

China

  • Ai Weiwei
  • Han Dong
  • Jun Yang (China/Austria)
  • Li Fuchun
  • Li Ran
  • Lu Yue
  • Royce NG (Hong Kong/Australia) in collaboration with Zebadish Arrington, Suhuu Goh + Soichiro Mitsuya (USA/South Korea/Japan)
  • Xijing Men [Chen Shaoxiong, Gimhongsok, Tsuyoshi Ozawa] (China/South Korea/Japan)
India

Indonesia

Iran

  • Pages
  • Nasrin Tabatabai + Babak Afrassiabi (Netherlands/Iran)

Japan

Kazakhstan

Kyrgyzstan

Lebanon

Palestine

Phillippines

  • Poklong Anading

Qatar

Singapore

South Korea

Taiwan

Thailand

Turkey

Click here for the complete list of artists participating in the 9th Gwangju Biennale.

Gwangju Biennale Hall, Gwangju, Korea. Image courtesy Gwangju Biennale.

Gwangju Biennale Hall, Gwangju, Korea. Image courtesy Gwangju Biennale.

Co-Artistic Directors (left to right) Nancy Adajania, Mami Kataoka and Carol Yinghua at Tate Modern. Image courtesy Gwangju Biennale.

Co-Artistic Directors (left to right) Nancy Adajania, Mami Kataoka and Carol Yinghua at the Tate Modern. Image courtesy Gwangju Biennale.

Gwangju Biennale: History

The Gwangju Biennale was initiated in 1995 to honour the spirit of the Gwangju Uprising, a local democratic movement that was violently suppressed by the military regime in 1980. It was the first biennale in East Asia and is today one of Asia’s most prominent art events. The 9th Gwangju Biennale takes place from 7 September to 11 November 2012.

SS/KN/HH

Related Topics: biennales and biennials, curatorial practice, art in Korea

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