Monday, September 10, 2012

2012 Gwangju Biennale

Showcasing diversity of contemporary art

Clockwise from top left, Pedro Reyes’s “Imagine,” Scott Eady’s “100 Bikes Project: Gwangju” and Suh Do-ho’s “Rubbing Project” are on exhibit at the 2012 Gwangju Biennale. Asia’s largest contemporary art event, themed “Round Table” this year, is underway at various venues in the southwestern city and runs through Nov. 11. / Courtesy of Gwangju Biennale

To fully appreciate the works of 92 artists from 40 countries at the 2012 Gwangju Biennale, art fans will need stamina.

The largest contemporary art exposition in Asia opened Friday at various venues with an extensive amount of pieces to see, hear, touch and experience.

Under the theme “Round Table,” this year’s Gwangju Biennale is overseen by six acclaimed Asian female curators — Kim Sun-jung of Korea, Nancy Adajania of India, Wassan Al-Khudhairi of Iraq, Mami Kataoka of Japan, Carol Yinghua Lu of China and Alia Swastika of Indonesia.

“It was difficult to understand each other at first but we tried to show the diversity of contemporary art through six sub-themes. We found the differences¬ and similarities of each other and this biennale is not an end, but a new start of future cooperation,” Kim said during a press conference for the biennale, Thursday.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s “Word Projection” is on exhibit at the Biennale Square in front of the exhibit hall. He is one of the most significant contemporary artists and currently banned from traveling outside Beijing. He uses immaterial means such as video projection of some 7,000 images related to his views on social and artistic issues.

There are five galleries in the main exhibition hall. Colored dots next to an artist’s name indicate which curator organized which work.

Korean-American artist Michael Joo presents “Indivisible,” composed of an array of transparent plastic shields, which reflects the increase of civic movements across the globe.

Aki Sasamoto’s “Centrifugal March” incorporates a performance among various daily objects transformed in a sculptural way. Mexican artist Pedro Reyes’s “Imagine” displays a number of musical instruments made from weapons. He tries to convey the message of “all weapon production in the world should stop,” through the piece, the artist said during the press preview.

Han Dong’s “Born Again,” a poetry recital accompanied by live music, drew audiences’ attention.

Moon Kyung-won and Jeon Joon-ho’s “El Fin del Mundo” is on exhibit at Gallery 4. The video, describing the world before and after an apocalypse, won the Noon Award, which is given to emerging artists by the Gwangju Biennale.

Some artworks involve participation from the visitors. Children can ride bicycles as part of Scott Eady’s “100 Bikes Project: Gwangju.”

Outside exhibition hall

While the five galleries represent the spirit of the biennale, more pieces await visitors outside the exhibition hall.

Korean artist Suh Do-ho connects the hall and Daein Market, a traditional market in Gwangju, through his “Rubbing Project.”

“I wanted to bring out the hidden stories beneath the history and thought of taking rubbings to derive textures,” Suh said.

“In-Between Hotel,” a tiny movable hotel room on a truck, portrays Suh’s continuing interest in gaps. He presented “Bridging Home,” a traditional Korean house interposed between two British buildings, during the 2010 Liverpool Biennale and “In Between Hotels” comes from the same idea.

The Mugak Temple in downtown Gwangju has also been turned into a contemporary art space.

Kim Ju-yeon presents “Erasing Memory,” consisting of three tons of salt and wooden chairs. The artist suggests sitting on the chair and putting ones feet on the mountain of salt to meditate.

On the third floor, Wolfgang Laib’s “Unlimited Ocean,” with small mounds of rice, and U Sun-ok’s “microhome — mugaksa (room of colors)” create a unique harmony.

However, there has been a lukewarm reaction to the Gwangju Biennale’s new challenge of hiring six co-curators.

Art critic Lim Geun-jun said the biennale played it “too safe” by hiring all of them.

“It is obvious that there were not enough discussions among the six curators. They just reprised what they did with familiar artists they have worked with,” he said. “This biennale does not present a new vision, but imitates the tradition of biennale.”

Another critic, Ban E-jung, shares a similar view. He said the co-curator system was a good idea but was too “good-natured” a gesture for a contemporary art event.

“The proper function of contemporary art is not reconfirming what everyone knows but giving it impact. Besides, there was no visually strong, memorable work,” Ban said.

The 2012 Gwangju Biennale runs through Nov. 11. Tickets cost from 14,000 won for a single day ticket and 30,000 won for an exhibition pass. A 90-minute docent program is available every hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

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