8 amazing artworks at the Gwangju Biennale 2014

Despite censorship issues, the Gwangju Biennale 2014 has some great works on show.

The Gwangju Biennale opened on 4 September 2014 with an international and influential roster of artists despite recent controversies over censorship in a Gwangju Biennale anniversary exhibition. Art Radar brings you a selection of some of the most amazing artworks on show.

Okin Collective, ‘Operation-For the Beloved and Song’, 2014, performance and sound, 2014. Music: Taehyun Choi. Image courtesy the artists.

Okin Collective, ‘Operation-For the Beloved and Song’, 2014, performance and sound, 2014. Music: Taehyun Choi. Image courtesy the artists.

The tenth edition of the Gwangju Biennale opened on 4 September 2014 and will run until 9 November 2014. This year’s Biennale, curated by Tate Modern‘s international curator Jessica Morgan and themed “Burning Down the House“, explores the process of burning and subsequent transformation of matter, symbolic of “a cycle of obliteration and renewal witnessed throughout history.”

The Biennale reflects upon the various facets and manifestations of ‘burning’ in aesthetics and commercial culture. Often violent, processes of destruction and self-destruction are usually followed by the promise of the new and the hope for change.

As stated on the Biennale website,

The theme highlights the capacity of art to critique the establishment through an exploration that includes the visual, sound, movement and dramatic performance. At the same time, it recognises the possibility and impossibility within art to deal directly and concretely with politics.

Okin Collective, 'Operation-For the Beloved and Song', 2014, performance and sound, 2014. Music: Taehyun Choi. Image courtesy the artists.

Okin Collective, ‘Operation-For the Beloved and Song’, 2014, performance and sound, 2014. Music: Taehyun Choi. Image courtesy the artists.

Despite the censorship controversy in August 2014 that saw the Gwangju City Government deeming Hong Seong-dam’s work Sewol Owol (2014) – due to be shown at the Gwangju Biennale’s twentieth anniversary exhibition “Sweet Dew – After 1980” at the Gwangju Museum of Art – as politically inappropriate. The censorship resulted in the resignation of the Biennale Foundation’s President Lee Yong-woo and the museum exhibition’s Chief Curator Yoon Beom-mo, but the ‘Gwangju spirit’ – guaranteeing artists’ freedom of expression – still remains in the Biennale.

Art Radar brings you our selection of some of the best Asian participants at this year’s edition of the event.

Lee Bul, 'Abortion', 1989, performance, Dong Soong Art Center, Seoul. Image courtesy Studio Lee Bul.

Lee Bul, ‘Abortion’, 1989, performance, Dong Soong Art Center, Seoul. Image courtesy Studio Lee Bul.

1. Lee Bul, Abortion

Lee Bul (b. 1964, Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea) has explored issues such as the role of women in society, the promise of technology and the legacy of modernism as embodied in architecture. Her performance work Abortion (1989) confronts birth control, sexuality and abortion on a personalised level. Hanging naked, upside down from the ceiling tied up in a rock-climbing harness, Lee talks about her abortion and recites song lyrics.

Lee Bul began her career in the 1980s, producing provocative performance-sculptures. She came to prominence when she represented Korea at the Venice Biennale in 1999. Lee creates work across a diverse range of media, including drawing, performance, sculpture, painting, installation and video, while being best known for her Cyborg sculptures, in which she merges human and machine elements. Her oeuvre probes “timeless human tendencies: our lurking fear of the natural world, out-sized ambition and the abuse of power.”

Sehee Sarah Bark, 'Vanished Landscape', 2013, digital pigment print, 873 x 1,296 mm. Image courtesy the artist.

Sehee Sarah Bark, ‘Vanished Landscape’, 2013, digital pigment print, 873 x 1,296 mm. Image courtesy the artist.

2. Sehee Sarah Bark, Vanished Landscape

The photographic and video work Vanished Landscape (2013) addresses issues of ‘nomadism’ and moving from one’s home. Through her work, Bark focuses her attention on symbols that refer to ‘moving’:

They range from a family immigration from country to country, frequent moves from place to place in a neighbourhood and all the way down to my movements in between walk steps.

She sees the landscapes during her moves as a series of fragmented and unsecured continuities, starting from the abandonment and burning of her possessions before or after a move. By performing these routine acts, the artist says: “all of me will be gone in the end.”

Sehee Sarah Bark (b. 1985, Gwangju, South Korea) holds a BFA in Painting from Chosun University and an MFA in Photography from the University of the Arts London – Camberwell. Working with photography and installation, Bark creates works that focus on personal narratives, like her everyday life and experiences. Bark’s scenarios are carefully studied, planned and staged and are charged with symbolism, evident through the objects she uses.

Minouk Lim, 'FireCliff 3 performer with Big Baby', 2012, Kalopanax thorn, sponge, 130 x 45 x 30 cm. Photo:Cameron Wittig, Walker Art Center. Image courtesy the artist.

Minouk Lim, ‘FireCliff 3’, performer with ‘Big Baby’, 2012, Kalopanax thorn, sponge, 130 x 45 x 30 cm. Photo: Cameron Wittig, Walker Art Center. Image courtesy the artist.

3. Minouk Lim, FireCliff 3

Minouk Lim (b.1968 in Daejeon, South Korea) merges performance, video and documentary to explore “the arteries of city life”, the streets, and to examine individual alienation in Seoul’s rapid urban development. In FireCliff 3 (2012), a performance she did for the opening of her solo exhibition at the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis in the United States, she collaborated with performer and choreographer Emily Johnson. In the performance, Lim uses one of her wearable sculptures, made from thermofoam (a plastic sculpted by heat) and a variety of other synthetic and natural materials.

The sculptures are conceived as protective and totemic shields, used in an imagined apocalyptic landscape. Based around themes of nature, myth and civilisation, the performance involves a body constrained by these objects, viewed through thermographic cameras, with text readings and sounds. The performance presents a reconstruction of memories about America and Korea, the division of the two Koreas, and the close relationship between Korea and Japan in their politics and society after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, crossing the boundaries of the present and the past.

Okin Collective, 'Operation-For Something Black and Hot', 2012, single channel video, Full HD, 20 min. Actors_ Kiyoung Kim, Doyoung Kim, Donghee Park. Image courtesy the artists.

Okin Collective, ‘Operation – For Something Black and Hot’, 2012, single channel video, Full HD, 20 min. Actors_ Kiyoung Kim, Doyoung Kim, Donghee Park. Image courtesy the artists.

4. Okin Collective, “Operation” series 

Operation – For Something Black and Hot (2012) and Operation – For the Beloved and Song (2014) are part of Okin Collective’s “Operation” series. The first performance alludes to the Japanese government’s poor handling of the Fukushima disaster, which increased danger to the citizens, and critiques the negligence of distaster-survival manuals distributed as mere formalities by the state. The second performance focuses on the role of song and alludes to the commemorative song of the Gwangju Democratice Uprising before it was banned in 2009. The work critiques the failure and indifference of contemporary politics in dealing with catastrophic situations, such as the April 2014 ferry sinking.

Okin Collective (founded in 2009) consists of Hwayong Kim (b. 1979, Incheon), Shiu Jin (b. 1975, Seoul) and Joungmin Yi (b. 1971, Seoul). The collective takes its name from the Okin Apartments complex, where the artists met during an eviction process that eventually culminated in the tearing down of the building. Looking at how the voracious, abrasive and violent urban planning affected and damaged people’s lives, the collective focuses on the various facets of redevelopment projects around Seoul and their effects on the population. For the collective, “art’s role in society is to offer new perspectives on reality.” They create hybrid, improvised situations through a complex matrix of appropriation, pastiche, discovery of sites, borrowed linguistic fragments and different methods of practice.

 

Xooang Choi, 'The noise', 2007, oil on resin, 100 x 100 x 25 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Xooang Choi, ‘The noise’, 2007, oil on resin, 100 x 100 x 25 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

5. Xooang Choi, The Noise

The Noise comprises a set of various human heads with faces painted in fine realistic details while their backs are blank. Hanging from wires attached to the ceiling in a circle, the heads face inwards, carrying different expressions, close to one another, as if listening to their neighbours’ thoughts, while also appearing and being isolated in their own mind and emotional state.

Xooang Choi (b. 1975, Seoul) explores ordinary people and the society we live in. Choi maintains that

the bigger and more advanced a society, the more standardised and systemised it becomes so as to more efficiently manage and control its citizens.

His belief is mirrored in the miniature, hyper-realistic sculptures he makes of the human body, natural and hybrid, in painted polymer clay, which contain powerful metaphors for the state of contemporary society. The figures and their body parts are sometimes abbreviated, distorted, exaggerated or mutilated, and sometimes substituted by other animal or artificial elements.

Tetsuya Ishida, 'Recalled', 1998, acrylic on board, 145,6 x 206 cm. Image courtesy of Tetsuya Ishida Commitee.

Tetsuya Ishida, ‘Recalled’, 1998, acrylic on board, 145,6 x 206 cm. Image courtesy of Tetsuya Ishida Commitee.

6. Tetsuya Ishida, Recalled

Recalled (1998) depicts an ordinary man in Ishida’s imagined reality, who has malfunctioned and is thus packed in his box to be ‘recalled’ to the factory and either be fixed and put back on the market or destroyed to make way for a new man. Packed with metaphoric elements, such as references to state control, social pressure and conformism, Ishida’s work is symptomatic of a society that praises uniformity and abates individual expression.

Tetsuya Ishida (b. 1973 – d. 2005, Yaizu, Shizuoka, Japan) explored the anachronisms of contemporary society and their effects on individuals. His surrealist painting practice portrays an ordinary Japanese life seen through symbolic distortion. The three major elements in Ishida’s oeuvre are Japan’s identity and role in today’s world; Japan’s social and academic educational structures, and Japanese people’s struggles to adapt to social and technological changes in contemporary life.

Liu Chuang, Untitled (The Festival), 2011, video, 5 min. 14 sec. Image courtesy the artist and Leo Xu Projects.

Liu Chuang, ‘Untitled (The Festival)’, 2011, video, 5 min. 14 sec. Image courtesy the artist and Leo Xu Projects.

7. Liu Chuang, Untitled (The Festival)

Untitled (The Festival) (2011) is a video documenting a performance that Liu enacted the morning after Chinese New Year’s Eve. He walked amidst the chaos left behind by the night’s celebrations – ruins and remnants of joyful moments embodied by the remains of fireworks. He then lit up a piece of paper from a newspaper or magazine, walking with it on fire, picking up another one and lighting it with the one in his hand. The whole process became like an Olympic torch rally but with a strong sense of spiritual rite. In many religions, the burning process is a means of communication and of passing on information or a message. Liu was, in that poetic and ephemeral moment, symbolically passing on information from last year to the next.

Liu Chuang (b. 1978, Hubei, China) uses public space interventions to challenge our perception of everyday life and its usual patterns and details. His practice engages with the effects of an ever-evolving and disconcerting environment that is China, rushing through its industrial and urban development.

Prem Sahib, 'Hard At It', 2014, ceramic tiles, plywood, neon glass tubing, steel, crash mat, polished steel, paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary.

Prem Sahib, ‘Hard At It’, 2014, ceramic tiles, plywood, neon glass tubing, steel, crash mat, polished steel, paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary.

8. Prem Sahib, Watch Queen

The columns are part of the Watch Queen series, a term referencing a member of the gay subculture who watches others have sex in public as a voyeur or for security reasons. The tiles are a direct reference to materials used in nightclubs, as are the moulded dead neon tubes, arranged in sculptural elements around the columns and pointing to the subtlety and fragility of desire and human touch. A sheet of anodised aluminium, the black sweat panel, registers the traces of a body on its surface, suggesting bodies in motion and a sense of touch. A bed-like sculpture completes the installation, also referencing gay club culture, the potential coupling of lovers or the next day’s hangover. Sahib’s mise-en-scène speaks of places (nightclubs, public bathrooms, the internet) and time (the night), functioning as a stage for bodies and desire.

Prem Sahib (b. 1982, United Kingdom) graduated from the Slade School of Art in 2006 and the Royal Academy Schools in 2013. Sahib’s works are formally clean and precise, abstract and minimalist, subtly referencing convictions about intimacy, sexuality, relationships, desire and community.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Korean artists, Japanese artists, Chinese artists, Indian artists, performance, video, painting, sculpture, installation, biennales, biennials, events in Korea

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