Between Here and There – Maninbo

Between Here and There:

Gwangju Biennale 2010 – “Maninbo”

WRITTEN BY Andrew O’Donnell

I embark on this particular splurge of prose with a certain amount of trepidation, given that I was present both at the docent orientation for this year’s biennale and have a loved one presently working for the Maninbo exhibition. Having said that, insider or outsider-dom is possibly not the point when it comes to a complete assessment of everything Gwangju’s Biennales have to offe. For a start, there is always far too much art to properly merit an all-encompassing judgement or any kind of a grand assessment. Personally, I find the titles of these affairs fairly throw-away things, although this year I was more interested in the supposed theme of the Biennale being invested in the poetry connection that the press has trumpeted for this year’s events. So without further ado let’s try to get this one out of the way first, and cross fingers that we get it correct for both Korean and foreign readers alike.

The title Maninbo comes from the epic poem of the same name, written by the Korean poet Ko Un, which he began in prison during the upheavals of the democracy movement of the mid-eighties. A poem in which the poet intended to write for everyone he had met in his entire life up to that point. The biennale theme also coincides with the Korean release of the final book of the Maninbo, completed this year (which I’ll return to in a moment).

Semantically the word’s significance refers to a multi-layered meaning ostensibly taken from the Hanja (Chinese character) usage.

1/‘Man’ can mean ‘many’ in its colloquial sense, or literally it can mean ‘ten thousand’ (like other parts of Asia, Korean counts from and enforces ten thousand as having specific spiritual significance between our focus on purely thousands and millions). In it’s older Chinese/Goryo sense it also implies ‘infinity’ or ‘beyond number’.

2/‘in’ signifies person/life (numbered life, more literally) and 3/ ‘bo’ characterizes a collection or grouping of some sort, thus the popular English translation 10,000 Lives. The poet Robert Hass mentions that Ko Un claims that the title also has the connotation of our word census (as in ‘registration of citizens’). What is also lost, as hopefully we can see from this explanation, is the essential spiritual framework in which the Hanja is intended. The title, then, is multi-faceted and not meant to be taken literally (it is actually is made up of over 4,000 poems).

How this linguistic significance can be transposed onto the exhibition itself is a tough one. I’d suggest they have aimed, for a more diluted sense of simply the ‘many people’ aspect, with a hair of the sense of the generally biographical. My feeling is that this year’s curator has also highlighted Ko Un’s work (regardless of its only having a fleeting connection to the art in this year’s exhibition) in a partially political attempt to bring more attention to the fact that Ko Un is again nominated for the Nobel prize this year (and, again, hasn’t succeeded in being awarded the prize).

Just as an aside; while I’m all for the beauty of this wonderful mammoth poem (parts of which I’ve read in translation and loved) and hope that, with time, a large chunk, if not all of it, will be adequately translated so the global community acknowledge it among the greatest works of literature of our era. Saying that, I DO, at the same time, wonder if a poet like Ko Un – a champion of what you might deem the ‘folk poem idiom’, an artist uncomfortable with Confucianism and possibly more of lineage with literary figures like Whitman and Ginsberg (I’d personally put him above Ginsberg) – would really want to allay himself with such a rampant capitalist as Alfred Nobel? That’s a question to be left open… However; I do think it’s worth asking since we bump into it all too often in the familiar matter of certain high-profile Koreans on the lookout for ‘global recognition’.

The only other thing to mention before delving into the art is that, as a journalist and sometime critic, I feel duty-bound, from the outset, to severely question the modus operandi of the roving international biennale. Recently I couldn’t help reading the blog of a first-time foreign visitor to the Gwangju Biennale (an American singer-songwriter) and agree with some of his statements about the whole concept of this form of internationalism. This isn’t to say that art from whatever country shouldn’t want to reach out beyond it’s borders… my feeling is simply to question what framework, what conceptual crucible, does this art travel within and what is its intention within that framework?

Having been to two previous Gwangju Biennales, the visitor notices more acutely what is of Korea, or even of the local area – Cholla-do – and what represents neighbouring countries and Asia as a whole. The right balance between perceived audience and perceived forum for local/nationwide/continent-wide art is crucial to such an event’s success and, unfortunately, I’ll be arguing here, that in the Biennale’s more recent history it is something that has lost focus to a certain degree, albeit that it is caught in a struggle to regain this balance.

After having taken part in the orientation for prospective docents, I was a bit disappointed to see so little engagement and discussion of the nature and definition of art when it came to the parade of images one is inevitably confronted with as someone who must explain the work of over a hundred and thirty artists from all corners of the globe. I wouldn’t necessarily blame the applicants either. While there were some attempts to really pull discussion out of them, I’m afraid that the ultimate responsibility for this is the art itself and the images selected, for a gamut of reasons, didn’t seem to sufficiently do the job. Is this simply the central problem of the international biennale, that, in trying to please all, it allays itself with too many and, in this, pleases only the internationalist few? It may be that the problem is not particularly one of art or art criticism but the problem of the organizers not sufficiently being in touch with their audience; the people of Gwangju and the visitors to Gwangju during the time of the Biennale. Do we perceive what the organizers perceive when an audience is envisioned? I find it hard to NOT ask these questions, given that the purported inspiration for this Biennale is an artist so many Koreans would benefit from reading and understanding, particularly high school and university students. Yet, bar the fact that his poem is sold in the exhibition’s bookshop one would barely notice the presence of Ko Un at the Gwangju Biennale. There is no English translation of the Maninbo in the bookshop, even though there is a pocketbook selection in an edition currently in print to order from the U.S. Did no one consider the fact that if you want someone to receive a prize for their poetry, or be promoted as an inspiration for an art exhibition, you might want to have translations of the poet’s epic being sold, read and heavily promoted at the venue itself?

But, before we get carried away, let’s delve into the art. As ever, I’m going to be covering a tiny fraction of the art on display and am limiting myself to the pieces that struck me, positive and negative.

The first impression, with this Biennale, is the immediate prominence of photography and notions of “realism” in the here and now, plus all of the subsequent motifs and approaches that go with it. Franz Gertsch’s massive super-realist Self-Portrait is an image that’s still very vivid in the memory. It has the surprise quality of a photograph taken with a short sharp exposure, the artist’s fragility and stalwart wonder made eminently solid… a massive acrylic painting, and not a blown up photograph.

In fact I find much of the first floor of the exhibition unremarkable until I reach Chinese film-maker Wu Wenguang’s China Villagers Documentary Project 1-4: a cluster of television screens sequenced to play the documentary films of a number of rural villagers living in borderline poverty in China. Wu pioneered a project using handheld cameras that were distributed among the inhabitants of these villagers, on the promise that they would take every opportunity to make films of their everyday lives.

First, the observer is struck by the revealing narratives of the short films themselves. For example, the first film I focus on is based on a television crew’s visit to the village in order to film state-sponsored footage of the villagers and their homes. To the viewer it seems immediately apparent that the villagers are used to such visits and don’t particularly appreciate the way that they are represented onscreen in order for the T.V crews to receive their salaries. On this occasion the village film maker chooses to film the T.V crew as it ‘directs’ the villagers and paints the picture that the state needs to be painted. An incredibly concise way of showing how social hierarchies are structured in modern day China and the person who co-ordinates the T.V shoot is obviously uncomfortable with the way that the villager is empowered by filming the T.V crew. At one point the person filming criticizes the crew’s version of ‘documentary’-making and asks the T.V crew why they aren’t surprised when no one watches T.V anymore.

Once the intrigue of the separate narratives wears off, something much more interesting happens. The viewer realizes that the ‘professionalization’ of art and artists needs to be carefully reconsidered. From a philosophical angle this project begs the question ‘is it precisely the unschooledness of these village film makers that makes their films so artful’ in a world where the production of art is dependent on wealth, schooling and professionalization, the lucid words and approaches of those who have nothing to lose is a refreshing change in the art world, or as the British artist Banksy might reflect, in the inverse: “Never in human history has so much been used by so many to say so little”.

Wu’s project blurs the distance between art and artist and begs the question of whether it is precisely those untrained individuals who are the best trained for art, in the modern world… even the notion of ‘trainedness’ is an quite logically an oddity in this context.

The video work of Artur Zmijewski’s encouraging and filming of a number of blind people painting pictures intrigues. While the painting themselves have a continually ‘unfinished quality’ it is the conceptual root of this approach that leaves you thinking. Sight comes with certain disabilities, also… our conditioning regarding images is never-ending and there is a strange freedom in witnessing images made from a realm in which images are seemingly never present. Yet, even here, the conundrum is; does the mind or eye always somehow endeavour the discovery of the image, even in blindness, possibly as unadulterated and recreated touch? And how is this semblance transferred in the psyche of the blind person? Again, I can’t help thinking that this piece is itself a criticism of the ‘artfulness’, the ‘schooledness’ of art within the context of the bland image-production of modern mass media. It seems like a quite literal leap to assert the notion of what the blind see as viable alternative or corollary to what the blinkered media sees (a kind of blindness in itself. There always seems to be blindness and sight at each step of the evolution and revolution of mind).

Then I come to Hans-Peter Feldmann’s 9/12 Front Page, a room full of global newspaper front pages from the day after the government-sponsored demolition job of 9/11. At first, one marvels at the feat of gathering all these newspapers into the space itself, the ‘idea factor’ if you will, then there is the eery feeling of the presence of a very visceral form of lived history… and yet there is the more saddening notion of the fact that the images of the towers are all very similar, and that the plurality of the different papers is compromised by the partial uniformity of the images themselves… the essence of the zeitgeist perhaps being this illusory plurality within homogeny, or as Roger Waters might say; “forty channels of shit on the T.V to choose from”, the illusion of choice, as it were.

You can stay so long in this room that it becomes possible to count the number of photographs used, the number of camera angles etc. One might say, after 9/11, that the whole idea of the cultural gaze is somehow corrupted, degraded and ill-chosen, the whole notion of Event (take the notion of speed in relation to the cultural gaze for example… it is very difficult to “event-ize” the slow cross-generational holocaust of the Israeli occupation of Palestine for example, or the slow disintegration of societal mores and the creeping starvation in Africa… photography, in this sense then, is the perfect media for ‘modern terrorism’ in all its manifestations; both state-sponsored and otherwise). Perhaps the most potent and concise form of true slavery, after the creation of culture, is the specific directing of the cultural gaze. In the context of Hans-Peter Feldmann’s exhibit the newspaper reader seems reduced to being led blindly from one emotive shock/pressure-point to another, very much as a torture victim might be… with 9/11 seemingly projected as the mother of all cultural shocks.

Again, I come back to the notion of the un-envisioned world beyond the page where numbers of dead bleed into each other off-screen and do not have the neatness (in spite of our grief) of a thousand some dead in the twin towers or fifty some dead on tube trains in London or elsewhere in Europe (most recently the event of the sinking of a South Korean submarine off the coast contextualizes this further)… in short, created ‘terrorist events’ used as the media cattle-prod for the herding of the sheep into a manufactured global fascism created by the consent of the viewer, with the projected goal of the ignorant (he most schooled in the ways of the most primitive and desperate: Civilized, Internationalist, Cosmopolitan Man) leading the charge into 21st century mindlessness? I can almost brush the cultural dust and debris from my shoulders as I move toward the next room…

I believe succinctly that the only cure to this media ‘event-izing’ is an artistry (a mode of being) focused on the long-abused human concept of The Beautiful, the constantly apprehended sense of The Beautiful in everyday human life as the literal saver of souls. Without this apprehension our imaginations will circularly conjour these eventualities in a Dante’s-Inferno-esque group mental projection… everything being mind.

The photographs from Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnomh Penh, Cambodia bring about mixed feelings in me. The photographs taken of prisoners in the takeover of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 are taken from a purported 6,000 negatives of prisoners of the 14,000 subsequently slaughtered in the prison between 1975 and 1979. Firstly one is conscious of the memorial-like aspect to these pictures… and then one is uncomfortable that one is simply a stranger before these people, and not a family member/loved one etc. It could be said that these pictures, in context, aestheticize the suffering of the people, therefore exploiting their suffering… are they really art? The Maninbo brochure trumpets:

The concern that such images will be viewed as art and their historical context will be obscured is largely misplaced: although they are documents of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal campaign of genocide, the images radiate a potent sense of their subjects’ suffering in the face of unspeakable injustice.

Hmm, this quote in no way resolves itself. The word ‘although’ is key here (and also a very clumsy usage) as if a campaign of genocide is somehow separate from the suffering it inflicts? First of all the notion that art does not carry a clear historical context is the first misnomer. Secondly, art is both particular (i.e within ‘time’) and universal (without ‘time’). The viewer seems to be meant to presume that since these images are of suffering they are somehow artful or justified as art in the same sense. There is an order that needs to be abided by here. The artfulness of art comes first, meaning: an un-contextualized image. Then, later, its attributes come into play (it radiates all manner of feelings, sensations etc). The same can be said for Van Gogh. We do not require Van Gogh’s portraits to impart the attributes of suffering to us. They are simply attributes of the life that served to coincidentally function as part of a man. The art is separate from this. Meaning the attribute doesn’t come first and the art second. In so far as these are images, I am not convinced that they are art. Are these images included here because, in a Korean historical context, the viewer’s tendency to martyrize those suffering, or to project an air of nobility in suffering, might be exploited? One can only wonder.

(Perhaps art is a refuge from thought, not an invitation to it, a calm-ness in the traumatic whirl-wind of five sense perception. For example, a small baby, witnessing these pictures, may simply recognize the semblance of the individual figure and not be caught by the grief-laden context one is caught up in as an adult. Perhaps to a child the entire world, the dead and dying, the horrifically injured, those slaughtered and dismembered, the torturer and the tortured, the diseased and the healthy, the mechanized and compartmentalized soul and the entirely free spirit who has rejected the perceived ‘progress’ of civilization… perhaps all this is beautiful to the child. Perhaps this child’s apprehension is TRUE knowledge and not the knowledge we societally accept and apprehend; what the adult learns from trial and error? A child is free from any urge to contextualize…)

This exemplifies a number of problems with this year’s Biennale, the debate between art and non-art, particularly in the field of photography and portraiture. We see the same theme in the photographs of Tong Bingxue. It seems that these annually taken portraits of Ye Jinglu, taken over a life-time, taken in their entirety seem to have a purpose that is distanced from the intentions behind the single image itself. For me this mode of narrativization of a life seems to transform it into more than the sum of each picture’s attributes.

Liu Wei’s A Day to Remember and Unforgettable Memory both turn around the concept of how the collective memory functions. On the anniversary of the atrocities of Tiananman Square the artist travels there and asks people if they know what day it is. Most people questioned give evasive answers or prefer not to comment in any way. In the latter film the artist attempts to jog the memory of those he speaks to by showing the famous ‘tank man’ image and is ostensibly met with the same reactions. The conclusion is given: People’s memory turns into a vacuum. The bygones are twisted into a blurred picture: true memory is gone, illusion remains.

After seeing these two films I was very disturbed by the entire notion, and yet the longer I dwell on it the more arbitrary the act of the memorializing of experience seems. I don’t necessarily come to the same saddening conclusions as the artist, while grief and outrage is present, of course. If we see the notion of being alive within a Buddhist framework we can understand that the basic illusion of all experience (the veil of maya, as the Buddhist canon would call it) consists of a rolling reality communally decided upon by the tribe. This does not undermine lived reality and the grief it causes us at any given time but designates and helps us perceive more clearly our present communal memory as an outpost for reiterated psychic trauma. The fact that we seem to communally memorialize acts of violence, acts of war over acts of joy or acts of ecstasy seems to say something about the way we approach lived experience. What is our relationship with the maya of any particular current reality then? Outside of the production of art, we seldom communally memorialize the moment when such and such a person saw the joy of a young child playing games on a beach (or any other experience from the myriads stored in the personal and societal memory bank) that encompass the apprehension of quotidian beauty. Somehow the communal memory, the entire historical panoply of human life seems to focus on grief and suffering. Why? Surely we need to revise how we conceive the personal and historical in the way that we communally memorialize? And how does this stand in terms of what causes us emotion, do our current moralities even vaguely allow for it?

Perhaps the greatest highlight of this year’s Biennale, for me, are Guo Fengyi’s shamanic ink drawings that, in tandem with her practices as a shaman, healer and practitioner of qi-gong, bring us up close with swirling images of human and animal types as if via a combination of physiological doctor’s diagram and the primeval images of pre-ancient animal cave drawings. The elongated figures spring up from a seemingly unconscious source as if from another dimension and, in the context of healing, they have been said to literally heal and calm the body of the artist who was sick from arterial damage due to her long career working with industrial chemicals. They really need to be seen to be appreciated and are like nothing else in the exhibition.

As unusual and out-of-this-world as Guo Fengyi’s work is, the sculptor Duane Hanson’s Flea Market Vendor astounds for altogether different reasons. Again, there is something of a matchless quotidiana about this sculpture that has a very mischievous quality about it. It also really works hard at re-contextualising the sculpture’s outer world with the experience of the supposed solemnity of the exhibition space (the hot U.S sunshine, the breezy outdoors, do I hear cicada? Or smell freshly mown grass?). It’s undermining of the exhibition space can’t help but bring a smile to this viewer’s face.

The pioneering high-shutter-speed photography of Harold Edgerton are also given an airing at this year’s Biennale, with a selection featuring gun shots, along with the famous ‘milk splash’ image. Where the write-up mentions that the images render ‘the invisible visible’ I can’t help wanting to see more of these images, particularly images with less militaristic applications. The technology used here (‘fastest shutter speeds then imagineable’) opens up the viewer’s imagination to a world in which there are far more things happening in our world than the human mind-disposed eye is privy to.

Finally I must quickly mention some of the work that I found it hard to appreciate. Perhaps chief among these was Bruce Naumann’s Poke in the Eye/Nose/Ear 3/8/94 (1984)… the slowed down super-close-ups of someone doing exactly what the title suggests. What redeeming artistic value this may have I’ve yet to fathom. Kan Xuan’s Looking looking looking for… a video of a spider clambering over unspecified naked bodies seems simply a throwback to certain of the early performance pieces of Yoko Ono.

Last but not least, Zhou Xiaoho’s Concentration Training Camp seems to characterize that great arch enemy of the artist: unbridled capitalism, decorated with themes of corporate group-think. A team of people discuss their fidelity to money and prosperous careers in a ludicrous ‘group-building’ manner for a while until we become aware that they are all hanging upside down on wires, have been filmed as if right-way up, and the entire room has been decorated in reverse from bottom to top so as to trick the eye into believing, from certain camera angles, that the effects of gravity have been concealed. While to a certain extent the piece is gimmicky the message strikes you as well-intentioned if not essentially cutting enough.

My reflections on the experience of visiting this year’s Biennale are many and various, to find a broad basis for how I feel is very difficult.

I’m not the person I was six years ago when I first experienced the Biennale. I have become more familiar with the arts scene more genuinely in Gwangju, and become acquainted with some of the main practitioners of painting, illustration and installation in these here parts.

Gwangju, while it boasts a fierce independence from other cities and has a burgeoning art scene, is much like many other cities around the world, in that it, to some degree, ignores the artists that would really benefit it and applauds the spectacle of those who deal in decorative epherema, those who are well funded and have strong ties to government funding or other means. Its art critics, too, deal in cheering on these non-artists, and mainstream media coverage is consequently doled out to these who do not rock the boat.

All of this is largely known by all sections of the arts community and, of course, largely goes unquestioned. To add to this mix, the Biennale swings through every two years and the young hopefuls try to paste their ideas to this veritable internationalist board. One wonders, however, if the attraction of the Biennale actually matters. Don’t get me wrong, there is pretty much always a handful of things for the observer to latch onto and learn from. But it is the entire internationalist ethos, the gauze through which the entire selections process and hiring and firing procedure is seen that needs constant re-evaluation. Perhaps it is the responsibility of the true artist to ‘limit’ the realms in which his/her work is viewed, to find an avenue in which art is appreciated on a strictly local level without excluding international interest either.

The biennale context imbues the crucible of art, artist and audience with a vague sense of opportunism and celebrity which can neither nourish viewer or artist, particularly locally or nationally (interesting to note, here, then, that it was actually the art from China, this year, which most impressed). A problem still needs wholly acknowledging though…

Do the poets and the painters of the markets and thoroughfares of Korea go undernourished and beg from family members for paint, brushes, paper, materials etc? Do they drink down their bowls of makkoli in the last refuges from the always-creeping tentacles of doubtful western ‘civilization’ while the chosen few are invited, for two months, to experience the larger glare of the Biennale’s selections? It is sad to note that one artist I’m acquainted with here, Lee Sang-ho, someone, like Ko Un, very much a part of the democracy movement in Korea (a man imprisoned under the rule of Chon Doo-hwan) currently lives with his family and cannot even afford a studio in which to work. Another artist that was part of the same movement, Jon Jeong-ho, exhibits every few years in Art Street when he can afford to but he is rarely involved in anything larger. His works are strongly humanitarian; he particularly highlights the wrongs of development schemes that force out tenants from older traditional homes, or has homes destroyed (thus forcing the uniqueness of Korean culture to be marked out as fugitive and literally homeless). The rungs of an artist’s ladder are slippery with poverty, opportunism, friendship, sadness, joy, and all the constructions of personal and cultural memory.

I picture a nameless curator being met off the plane and being led, by his/her native host, to their accommodations in a nameless country that could be any country in the world. All are involved in what they deem to be ‘the arts’. The casual observer is asked to take it on faith that the host, bright and early the following day, will take that curator to the studio of an artist who may contribute something to the beautiful spiritual stock of the truth of the human world. One must have faith that all those involved are investigative and curious… people who are willing to lead themselves rather than be led. One must also be prepared to engage in dialogue on the measure of all these processes.

Of course, those curators involved in the Biennale are smart enough to know that they must move with the times, and it’s hoped that, beyond the need for joining ‘factions’, local or otherwise, foreign or homegrown, a new communal and inclusive definition of internationalism could be forwarded… one that begins with the local and broadens out to encompass a globalism that invites, inspires and is curious, over one that limits and controls.

The intellect, in art, is very limiting without the element of spirit and soul, and, call me impatient, but what I often find in much modern art (including certain swathes of what “Maninbo” has to offer) is art that has both an overflow of intellect (some of it this has made vast errors, some that is super-smart, mediocre, or intends well) and a constricting sense of self expression. However, there is also cause to think that this year’s selection is more humane than previous ones.

But, regardless, so long as a dialogue is openly maintained between visitor and curator, the entire future selection is wholly up to where the casual viewer of artworks decides to plant their attention, whether this be on the first shiny street corner or onward toward the murky underbelly, maybe even at all points in between AND beyond. Beauty is everywhere, if only we can stand to look at it. So perhaps it’s best that we leave the last laugh to the Maninbo that inspired all of this:

The Women from Sõnjei-ri*

In darkest night, near midnight, the dogs
in the middle of Saet’õ begin their raucous barking.
One dog barks, so the next one barks
until the dogs at Kalmoe across the fields
follow suit and start to bark as well.
Between the barking of dogs,
scraps of voices echo: eh ah ah…
Not unlike the sound which the night’s wild geese
let fall upon the bitter cold ground
as they fly over, high above,
not unlike that splendid sound echoing back and forth.
It’s the women from Sõnjei-ri on their way home
from the old-style market over at Kunsan
where they’d gone with garlic bulbs by the hundreds
in baskets on their heads,
there being a shortage of kimch’i cabbages
from the bean-fields.
Now they’re on their way home,
After getting rid of what couldn’t be sold
at the clearing auction at closing time –
several miles gone,
several miles left to go in deepest night!
The empty baskets may be light enough
yet I wonder: just how light are they
with empty stomachs, nothing to eat?
Still, they don’t suffer alone.
They share this pain,
these plain, simple people,
these plain, simple women.
What a good homely life!
Perhaps the dogs have gotten used to their voices,
for the barking starts to die away.
Night seems eager to declare: “I myself am night!”
And the darkness blinks its vacant eyes.

*The suffix ‘ri’ means ‘village’ or ‘hamlet’,

Translation by Brother Anthony of Taize, Kim Young-moo and Gary Gach, from “Ten Thousand Lives”, a small selection of English translations from the first ten books of Ko Un’s epic poem, available through Green Integer Books in the U.S.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Andrew O’Donnell is a British poet, painter, publisher, journalist, tutor, translator and editor of The Fiend literary journal. He lives in Gwangju with his wife and an infinitude of ‘ongoing projects’. For lessons in basic conversation, writing, literature and other areas contact him at 010 9866 9130 or andrewodonnell@riseup.net. His various work can be accessed at:

thefiendjournal.wordpress.com

www.openseasonpress.com

www.myspace.com.ajodonnell

ajodonnell.wordpress.com

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Comments
2 Responses to “Between Here and There – Maninbo”
  1. dougstuber says:

    OK We agree that Guop Fenghi had a great room. But I think the tie-in to Maninbo is far greater than Andrew O’ because the art to me just helped lead us form one example of humans ability or inability ot change horrible situations to another.

    I also feel that ONLY a well-funded Biennale could possibly open our eyes to the broader art world, and Gioni did a great job. Too many photos? FOR SURE!

    But a tleast he took a Korean theme and ran with it. Few other curators in the GB’s history have been able to acquire such high-level artists. OK the locals got mostly ignored again, but what was IN the Biennale was a smapling of art that the general art world accepts as being by contemporary back through the turn of the century masters. It’s clear that painting hardly matters any more in the art world, yet most of Gwangju’s artists are painters.

    That, folks, is the problem and the solution will not be coming any time soon. Very little art SELLS in Joellanamdo, thus those who actually want to SELL their work must cater to the few collectors their are (Solar Eclipse Group excepted) very few local artist types dare to cut a new edge. honestly, who would buy their work? Those who are amazing conceptual artists clear the heck out of here.

    So I’m glad the Biennale is so much better this year than in 2008, and hope the directors can find an even better curator for 2012. Long live the GB, and long live the concept of bringiing in art form all over the world. Otherwise, Andrew, we’d be hanging around Daedong or Shinsegae or Lotte Galleries, each of which offer two or three promo shows a year….and the rest of the scene is generally predictable and nauseum.

    See you at ETOY?

    Doug

  2. I’ve thought harder about this and have now decided not to cover any more Biennales, or any major exhibitions of this nature… whether I’m in Gwangju next time or not. The problem is one of a communal insecurity. We perceive an art, outside, that SELLS and then adapt to it (on whatever level of consciousness). This is the mark of someone unable to create, and yet it could be the m.o for many who work in ‘the arts’. The only adaptation a true artist can perform is to the material of his/her art, an apprehending, that’s all. Beyond this there are others who work within related fields who ‘look in on’ each other. All well and good. This is how art has always been. But attempts at ‘over-arching mediation’ seem to be a kind of digresive corruption of this, however. Meaning, all other considerations limit the art, and are a digression from its true purpose (whether they sell, are popular or not). My entire philosophy is encompassed in Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In fact I’ve decided to write no more journalism at all, political or artistic or otherwise. The entire face of public art, particularly within the internationalist sphere, is too often guided by the mediocrity of curators. I now regard art as pretty much deceased, apart from the very local… it’s death is a symptom of the larger problem of mass un-opinion in the way that art is treated. To go further, there is really no need for even a cursory summation. The work is all that’s important, and the opinion closest to it.

    On curatorship, I recently bumped into a bunch of students who were on the Biennale curatorship course, was incredibly interested, asked them a whole heap of questions, and, while there were some there who seemed to know what they were talking about when it comes to art, it’s always the ‘governing concept’ that goes unquestioned. The idea that a curator must be trained. By whom??? Might be the very logical and very uncomfortable question.

    I’m interested in writing notes for a large epic poem I’m in the midst of planning and am also interested in detailed methods of artistic process, particularly in poetry… and will publish poetry and translations at my site

    thefiendjournal.wordpress.com

    as for everything else, for me, I’m beginning to think that there is really very little to say. The lunatics now run the asylum, and those interested in watching lunatics behave like lunatics (within any discipline of human endeavour) will bolster their lunacy by commenting on it journalistically or otherwise. I, for one, intend to place my attention elsewhere.

    *An addendum to this piece should also be that the Wu Wenguang’s video piece, while it DID have English subtitles, did NOT have Korean subtitles when I was there. I heard a rumor that the Chinese Embassy were incredibly offended by some of the Chinese works of art… I don’t know if this was cause for these subtitles to be taken off or IF they were already not used from the beginning (in which case a fairly pointless use of a whole room of the Biennale, for the non-English speaker) so this should be noted.

    From what I’ve heard of those people at the embassy I judge them to be fools of the highest order, and, at least, for these selections (some of which weren’t covered in my article) Gioni should be commended.

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