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The Search the traces of 20 years: What can the 11th Gwangju Biennale do?

In search the traces of 20 years

What can the 11th Gwangju Biennale do?


text: Nobuo Takamori

photo: Gwangju Biennale

translation: Alan Chan

It is not easy to find another city like Gwangju that is so closely connected to art biennale.

(Parallel Chinese-English textsChinese follows English. 本文章為中英對照,英文在前,中文在後)

It is not easy to find another city like Gwangju that is so closely connected to art biennale. Like Tainan, Gwangju is the sixth largest city in its home country and both cities have a similar size of population. For those visitors, from within or outside of Korea, who are interested in seeing historical cities, Jeonju and Gyeongju are their likeliest destinations of travel. Therefore, it would seem that Gwangju Biennale is the main attraction for whomever visiting this city. During every biennale period (including both Gwangju Biennale and Gwangju Design Biennale) visitors will find their hotel service attendants ask them the question ‘Are you here to visit the biennale?’, and when you get on a cab and utter the syllables ‘Bi-En-Nal-Le’ to the driver, he/she will immediately carry the foreign passengers to the biennale exhibition venue.

It is well known that this ‘city of biennale’ was founded as the redemption of guilt. Gwangju Biennale was founded in the 1990s as a commemoration of the victims of May 18 Democratic Uprising in Gwangju. Recent investment in culture among the area of Gwangju has been done as a compensation to North and South Jeolla Provinces, which was long neglected from the economic development after the war. The large and standard Gwangju Biennale Exhibition Hall was erected upon this mentality of redemption and compensation, and it has since been the major venue for the biennale. Back in the 1990s, it was undeniable that the biennale was at the forefront of Asian contemporary art. Twenty years have passed, and these days questions have been raised about the ‘achievements’ of the biennale: what has Gwangju Biennale brought to the Korean art scene in the past twenty years? Has it brought up any significant Korean curators? Has the biennale brought about any changes in art internationally? The truth is that no easy answers can be found for the above questions.

光州雙年展0902 02

Dale Harding, Untitled-wall painting, 2016, ochre on acrylic. Dale Harding is one of the exhibited artists in 2016 Gwangju Biennale.

Questions about exhibitions are perhaps the best answered by curating another exhibition. The theme of Gwangju Biennale 2016 is ‘The Eighth Climate: What does Art do?’ One can discern from the title an attempt by the biennale to unravel its own historical burden. In the face of this doddering exhibition machinery, Maria Lind, the artistic director of this year’s biennale, has proposed the theme ‘What does Art do?’ The theme came from ‘the eighth climate’, an idea originated from Sufism of Islam, which is taken as a metaphor for the creative character of art. ‘The eighth climate’ is different from the other seven modes of climate that exist in the cosmology of the Ancient Greek, for the former is a symbiosis of material and spirits, history and mythologies. ‘The eighth climate’ is not perceivable through the senses of everyday life, yet it is an entity that effects actual influence. What is more important is that ‘the eighth climate’ turns that which escapes rational knowledge and imagination into reality.

Such mythological narrative is an attempt to pave the road for the idea that art is ‘the eighth climate’. And the question ‘What can Art do?’ is not asked to lead to any practical conclusion. Rather it is an attempt for art to evaluate itself through art itself. Maria Lind’s theme has significance in the context of Gwangju - while it is not a critique of the pragmatism and utilitarianism of Asian society and the logic of capitalism that comes with them, it is a response to the over-expectation projected to Gwangju Biennale and the ineluctable historical and political problems that surround it. Apart from the context of commemorating the political victims from the past, the biennale also shoulders the responsibility to open up international imagination to the city. On the one hand, the biennale plays a role in leading Korean contemporary art into the international art scene, while on the other hand, it is stuck in the vortex of local political infighting. In short, Gwangju Biennale has never been operated for the purity or philosophical essence of art.......(see more at a.m.post September/November Issue)

亞洲很難找到一個城市如光州一般,其都市的氣息和當代藝術雙年展緊緊相連。光州和台南一樣同為國內的第六大城,人口數量也相仿,然而韓國的國內外觀光客若有 興趣造訪古都,更可能會選擇全州或慶州作為旅遊的目的地。也因此,「光州雙年展」似乎成為了外地旅客造訪該城的主要原因了。每年雙年展舉辦期間(包括光州 雙年展以及光州設計雙年展),旅館服務生遇到外國旅客時,總會主動詢問:「您是來參觀雙年展的嗎?」,或是當你試著在光州跳上任何一輛計程車時,說出:Bi-En-Nal-Le」,司機便旋即知道將外地來的乘客載送到雙年展會場。


或許針對展覽所產生的提問,最好的回答方式,便是以另外一檔展覽來加以回應。2016年光州雙年展主題「第八氣候:藝術能做什麼」(The Eighth Climate :What does Art do?」可以看出雙年展本身企圖想解決自身包袱的企圖心,面對這座已經老態龍鍾的展覽機器,本屆雙年展藝術總監瑪莉亞琳德(Maria Lind)提出了「藝術能做什麼?」這個尖銳的命題。本屆雙年展以源自伊斯蘭教蘇菲主義的「第八氣候」(the eighth climate)作為引子,藉此比喻藝術所具備的創造性特質。「第八氣候」不同於古希臘地理觀中其他七種實存的氣候模式,它是物質與精神、歷史與神話共存的共生體。「第八氣候」是無法用人類日常的感官來接收其存在,但它卻是能造成具體影響性的實存體:共重要的是,「第八氣候」同時也使逃離理性主義的知識和想像化為真實。

這段精心的神話式敘述,實際上是為了鋪陳「第八氣候」即是藝術。而「藝術能做什麼?」這個提問也並非為了引導出實用性的結論,而是企圖以藝術本體來進行「藝術為何?」的自我量測。瑪莉亞琳德的主題選擇在光州的語境中,是有意義的;這並非要批判亞洲社會的實用功利主義,及其所附著資本主義邏輯,而是光州雙年展被賦予了太多具體的期待,以及不可避免的歷史及政治難題。光州雙年展除了延續政治受難者的脈絡之外,還肩負了將光州推向國際想像的責任;雙年展一方面要擔任韓國當代藝術接軌國際的重要領航者,另外一方面又身陷於地方政治話語的角力漩渦之中。簡單的說,光州雙年展從來就不是為了藝術的純粹性、或藝術自身的哲學本質而運作的......( 更多請見a.m.post 9/10月號)

光州0906 01Insun Park 뿌리, serise 03, 91.0×72.7, mixture, 2015. Insun Park is one of the exhibited artists in 2016 Gwangju Biennale.

Excerpt from a.m.post Issue 122  September/October 2016本文為節錄,全文刊載於 a.m.post Issue 122  9/10月 2016