Gwangju Biennial’s ambitious programme hopes to expand the imagination.
The Gwangju Bienniale is now in its 11th edition. With the main exhibition soon to close on 6 November 2016, Art Radar talks to the curatorial team and picks 6 highlights from among the commissioned works, exhibited works and satellite events, which have been taking place across Gwangju and Seoul since January 2016.
“The Eighth Climate”: Art as a sniffer dog
Entitled “The Eighth Climate (What Does Art Do?)”, in reference to the 12th-century Iranian mystic Sohrevardi’s idea of a zone of absolute imagination that exists parallel to common experience, the 2016 Gwangju Biennale had ambitious plans to expand the imaginative capacities of art. Artistic Director Maria Lind, commenting on the Bienniale’s philosophical theme and how it frames the artworks commissioned, said in an exhibition essay:
In the context of this Biennale, the eighth climate helps us explore art’s capacity to say and do something about the future, without ending up being paralyzed by the prospects or devolving into futurology, science fiction, techno pessimism, TED-talk utopianism and other established technologies of prediction. The eighth climate evokes art as an indispensable active imagination and hence its function as a seismograph and sniffer dog, often detecting changes and other things before the rest of society, whether the artists are conscious of it or not.
Curator Binna Choi reflects on the year’s events
Speaking to Art Radar about how the Bienniale has exceeded expectations throughout 2016, Curator Binna Choi (who worked with Artistic Director Maria Lind on GB11) stated:
What might look like the matter of a sheer scale and quantity – over 100 artists as well as over 100 biennale fellows and various ongoing activities since January this year such as Monthly Gathering and Infra-School program – was an unprecedented attempt and great collective effort by the curatorial team and the Gwangju Biennale Foundation team to assemble bodies and generate their contacts and encounters through art as one of the most porous languages we have.
Aside from the main exhibition, GB11 comprises a constellation of satellite events held throughout the year in Gwangju, Seoul and online. These include monthly gatherings, called “Wol-rae-hoe”, which have been organised by Gwangju-based curatorial associates Mite-Ugro; an alternative school entitled “Infra-School”, which has held events across Gwangju and Seoul; and a forum of talks entitled “To All the Contributing Factors”, which served as a meeting space for around 100 national and international “Biennale Fellows”. Two publications and a blog designed by Metahaven was also produced.
Asked what satellite events were particularly successful this year, Binna Choi stated in correspondence with Art Radar:
I try not to conclude anything in terms of success or failure: instead I like to judge by what I’ve learnt or unlearnt, what affected me and my surrounding most to the point of making change within myself and the surrounding. Otherwise we need to talk about the measure of success in a very specific way. In this light, the memorable was working closely again with my “comrades” Cooperativa Crater Invertido and Christian Nyampeta to interfere into – and engage with – the exhibition spaces at the 5/18 Archives, along with the amazingly dedicated and considerate team of the Archives. Curated Walk, a guided tour to particular areas in the city of Gwangju by those who committed to particular research, and Group Reading, both part of the Monthly Gathering were what warmed up my heart and excited my brain. Yet the overall composition of GB11 and our work on it makes this selective mentions feels very inappropriate! It’s about the “experience as a whole”, it’s hard to single out. That’s what might be a strength of a biennale too.
Art Radar picks six highlights among GB11’s exhibitions and events.
1. Dora García — Nokdu Bookstore
For GB11 Spanish artist Dora García (b. 1965, Valladolid) reconstructed the Nokdu bookstore, which played a crucial role in the 18 May 1980 Uprising in Gwangju. Referencing the bookstore and its history, the project was also intended to create a meeting place in the middle of the Biennale exhibition. Dora Garcia has said in a statement about the work:
The meeting place I want to construct is not a historical reconstruction of the original NOKDU bookstore, but a construction of how I imagine this bookstore to be, following my readings, my own emotional and cultural background, and the testimony of different people; a construction happening in a sort of anachronic moment that puts together the past (1980) the present, and the future of an event that catalysed the history of Korea.
2. The Monthly Gatherings — Mite-Ugro
The Monthly Gathering is a series of informal gatherings that took place in Gwangju that aim to foster deeper connections between the local art community and the Biennial, aiming specifically at encouraging greater participation of younger artists and students. It is coordinated and curated by Gwangju-based curatorial office Mite-Ugro and many of the events (running between January and November 2016) have been held at Mite-Ugro’s project space in Daein Market.
Events have included the “Group Readings” in which Bilingual texts (Korean and English) from books collected at Mite-Ugro that correspond to core themes of GB11 have been selected as texts in a reading group attended by biennial artists and local students. “Artist screening”, co-curated with Azar Mahmoudian and Margarida Mendes, shows the video or film work of GB11 artists (the screening programme included works by Dora Garcia, Julia Sarisetiati, Ane Hjort Guttu, Ann Lislegaard, Jeamin Cha, Hito Steyerl, and David Maljkovic among others).
“Artwork in Focus” was another event in which a group of people including local artists and curators, GB11 artists and the curatorial team gathered to discuss the works of two Gwangju-based artists at a time. Another project entitled “Curated Walks” involved practitioners from various disciplines such as sociology, history and urban studies curating different walking paths through the city and suburbs to experience and engage with issues effecting Gwangju, such as gentrification.
3. Bernd Krauß
Bernd Krauß (b. 1968, Rotterdam) decided to live inside his installation as it comes together, as a reflection of his interests in the relationship between art and biological life cycles. For GB11, Krauß was interested in the site of the Mudeung Museum of Contemporary Art where his commission is on display. The museum rests at the foot of Gwangju’s Mudeungsan Mountain and is often engaged in raising awareness of issues surrounding land and nature.
Between August and September, after the Biennial opening, Krauß inhabited the museum’s first floor and filled it with materials and objects from the area: boots, mud, plants, commodities from mountain-gear shops nearby. The artist then organised walks for participants during the day and night around the mountains. In the exhibition hall a mobile vitrine made by Krauß houses some of his objects.
4. Hito Steyerl — “Factory of the Sun”
Hito Steyerl (b. 1966, Berlin) is an artist, essayist and educator. “Factory of the Sun” was first presented by in the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015. This work is an immersive video installation, where one is inserted in a fictional video game set in a motion capture studio, with the movement of workers being converted into light beams. The viewer enters the game and assumes the viewpoint of a screenless apple computer floating inside a universe of spinning golden light bulbs.
The viewer then reads a text in the form of subtitles exploring technology’s primal relation to irradiating electromagnetic frequencies, themselves sun beams. Switching between narrative levels – from fiction to documentary – the flow of the game is narrated by an off-screen voice, which points towards the conditions of labour of the players and the supremacist matrixes where their actions are inserted.
5. Ahmet Öğüt
Recurrently reflecting the realm of participatory action and the resilient outreach of ephemeral communities, Turkish artist Ahmet Öğüt’s diverse practice is led by a refreshing political critique. His broad work comprises performative events, installations, collective projects, sculptures and pedagogical actions, among other interventions. For GB11, Ahmet Öğüt (b. 1981 Diyarbakir) has developed two animation videos in the style of Korean comics – manhwa drawings – portraying the stories of two young boys who were victims of state violence. Both were struck with gas canisters during civilian protests, one in Korea in 1987 and the other in Diyarbakır in 2006.
Highlighting the military and economic connections between the two countries – South Korea produces the gas canisters that were used by Turkish police, for example – Öğüt’s animations have been simultaneously displayed in Turkey and South Korea on video billboards in public space, referring to the tradition of high-altitude protests commonly practiced by workers in Korea. These were common in recent years, by lengthy occupation of construction cranes and building rooftops.
6. Jewyo Rhii with Jihyun Jung – Dawn Breaks
Dawn Breaks, a project by Jewyo Rhii (b. 1971, Seoul/New York) with Jihyun Jung (b. 1986, Seoul), consists of multiple installations as well as parade performances. It occupies both inside and outside spaces around the Gwangju Biennale building. Inside is a place for various images and objects that form parade floats. Rhii’s devices “Lecture Mac hine” and “Story Bus” function as “story producers” that activate when people hang images and other items onto them. Jung’s objects – including Night Walker, Fallen After Flight, Elephant and Show Case, Where Concrete Stones Count, and A Melody – communicate narratives by moving and making sounds while lights blink on and off.
These objects are regularly paraded through the park behind the Biennale building and plaza, which is a gathering space for the people of Gwangju. Outside and behind the building “Ball and Dance” drops ping pong balls from the first floor down the cascading staircases and ramps. The balls bounce off of a giant table and jump down to the whole park, shifting the air and replacing the mundane silence with a moment of colour and sound. The giant table becomes a performance stage at other times too, when Rhii and Jung’s floats go out for parade.
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