Gwangju Biennale Roundtable 2012

The six co-artistic directors of the Gwangju Biennale titled “Roundtable” maybe have created a hexagon of unequal sides, rather than an exact copy of King Arthur’s knightly meeting place, but in so doing made a Biennale that is singularly various and much more than a “walk that would interest your senses.”

Philosophically, Nancy Adajania caught the spirit of the memorial aspect of the Biennale, and like Gioni in 2010, who attempted to make a list of ever activist democratic movement in the 20th century, included a direct reference to May 18, 1980.

Wassan Al-Khudairi proved you don’t have to be 50+ to have curatorial chops, while Mami Katooka kept us focused on the spiritual and esoteric side of life. Sunjung Kim’s selections were well thought out, while allowing artists to let loose here in Gwangju, and Carol Yinghua Lu proved she knows pretty much all of “the right people,” back in Beijing. Carol also read a poem for the media day…nice touch.

Alia Swastika proved that an art statement can also be alluring visually, so instead of saying who picked who, here’s a list (OK I stole this from Massimiliano) of the work worth walking, bussing and biking to see.

On top of the Biennale structures, you simply HAVE to go to Mugaksa temple (on a hill near Sangmu) and climb the back stairs to Wolfgang Laib’s piece; to the Daein Market (where Dick Verdult’s yellow smiley-faced room steals the show); to The Gwangju Cinema (behind the defunct Migliore – a regular purveyor of all worthy independent Korean, and MORE films – and then to the abandoned house down an alley 14 steps toward Geumnano from there. This house provides a glimpse at the magic of converting long forgotten junk in a long forgotten house into spectacular-yet-subtle sculptures as only Abraham Cruzvillegas can do (or he’s the only one doing it in this exhibit, your choice).

I suspect Cruzvillegas put the cloth napkins into bottles and arranged them so well upstairs at the Gwangju Cinema as well, but his outside tower, indoor “small branches –in-bottles, hanging dilapidated dry wall, super sculpture, small but evident outside a window on a porch (the may tweak your memory to a mini David Smith or movable George Rickey, without having to move!) and even the way he arranges material for a further foray should give you goose bumps, or more, if you’re into any art movements at all since Marcel Duchamp.

Pedro Reyes gets the “you nailed it dude” award for his magically beautiful sculptures called “Imagine,” which are also perfectly playable musical instruments fashioned from guns confiscated in Mexico. His space ha three videos about the work running as well, and a performance of music on the gun-fashioned instruments added to their validity. His theory?

“We need to stop the manufacturing of guns first. The problem of gun availability in Mexico comes from our proximity to the United States. The idea that more guns somehow reduces crime is not true, and in the US you get shootings in the schools. The problem of the weapons trade must be brought into the discussion. Weapons must stop.”

Reyes used 1, 527 between 2006 and 2008 to make shovels for planting trees in a “death into life” art concept called “Shovels from Pistols” and another 6,600 guns recently for “Imagine.” His activist work lends credence to the belief that conceptual are can be meaningful, and with an excellent concept, the new one is “guns into music.” Yet, the individual pieces of art also stand on their own as complete sculptures.

If we grant Pedro the gold and Abraham the bronze, then Wolfgang Laib gets the silver medal, for Unlimited Ocean, with ease. His carefully placed cylindrical rice and bee’s pollen pyramids, a trick he’s performed before, invite you to sit, relax, perhaps meditate, and connect to the spiritual world via the concept that the origins of the universe and the origins of the microscopic individual are one and the same. This connection, made on your own, is brought to you by a philosopher-artist who gently coaxes you to take your share of spirituality in ways we all wish the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists around town would pick up on: take it or leave it, but by all means find your own path. I was so moved by the work I had to duck into an LED-color-lighted room (not a worthy neighbor) so people wouldn’t catch the teardrop…no one should see a journalist emote.) For authenticity, Laib used rice grown by the monks at Mugaksa.

Dick Verdult came in fourth, but before we go rescue the Daein Market (which has suffered greatly since the Bus Terminal moved), one should mention the tons of salt piled up Kim Juyeon in “Erasing Memories” as they represent the Buddhist concept of Vipaka. Vipaka is the concept of everything repeating itself in different ways to attain universal Karmic neutrality. Her piece is below Laib’s, next to the tea shop that is often used as an art gallery.

At Daein there was a participatory rubbing project (you rubbed the walls, not each other) by Do Ho Suh that allowed passersby to rub a crayon onto a wall, like you might a gravestone, to gather an imprint, often of s signature. Meanwhile a two-way camera was set up so others could watch you rub and you could watch yourself rub.

This differs greatly from Dick Verdult’s whimsical piece called “Smile Door” which allows you to duck left or right once inside the VERY yellow room, which gives a moment of privacy in which you can revel in the pure joy of the pop-art smile. Being form Holland, Verdult is free to jump right after the COBRA movement and Karel Appel, with his bright primary colors, and a touch of kitsch. The Kitsch is in the form of two funny well-conceived and framed photographs, the funnier one being the Korean with index and middle finger outstretched in what used to be seen as a peace sign, close enough to her face to NOT be missed.

3 Responses to “Gwangju Biennale Roundtable 2012”
  1. koreamaria says:

    Thanks for posting, Doug!

  2. Beverley Babb says:

    Dear Doug, I read this with interest. But with even more interest I read the piece about the U.S. election about which I’m having such major disquiet. I was wanting to hear you speak about it. I’ll be voting at one of the polls for early voting. You will be casting yours? Or not? My daughter is in tears over the fact that I simply cannot vote for Romney.

    I re -read the poetry you have written this year. I’ll write to you at your e-m address, Hope you and yours are healthy and happy.

    If only I could feel some hope for our species. Need to listen to more Eckhart Tolle tapes, I guess.


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