Last night I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art in London to listen to a presentation of the 10th Gwangju Biennale by Jessica Morgan who has joined the prestigious list of appointed curators. The list of participating artists had so far not been revealed.
For this anniversary, she chose a theme, Burning Down the House, that is dual in essence. It is reminiscing of the 1980’s Talking Head’s song bringing images of exploding dance floors and sheer euphoria. On the other hand, there is a menacing violence stemming out of the idea of relinquishing. It is however closely related to Korea’s modern history – Japanese and American occupations coming to mind. According to her, it gave to the Korean people this ability to make a “forceful projection into the future”.
Bringing a bit of Europe with her, Jessica Morgan was however fascinated by the city’s past and one event could not be overlooked. The Gwangju Uprising, also known as the also known as Gwangju Democratization Movement, took place between May 18 and 27th, 1980. Rising against dictatorship, the people managed to take over the city. Over this short period of time, there were 165 casualties. Portrayed as communist sympathisers, the inhabitants lived ostracised . By 2002, a national cemetery and day of commemoration (May 18), along with acts to “compensate, and restore honour” to victims, were established.
It therefore comes as no surprise that the Biennale will be a platform for contemporary Korean artist such as, for instance, Lee Bul whose work while expressing the artist’s state of mind takes the pulse of the Korean’s society.
In the five gigantic galleries, over 100 artists will be exhibited with over 35 newly commissioned work being presented. Themes going from the act of burning itself (Cornelia Parker or Huma Mulji) to parallels drawn with foreign dictatorships (Gülsün Karamustafa, Edward Kienholz) via the idea of home itself (Young In Hong). Jessica Morgan who curated Urs Fischer at the MOCA in 2013, dedicated an extensive part of the third gallery where his apartment will be represented on 3D looking wallpaper. Artists such as Pierre Huygue or George Condo will be invited into his house.
The passage from one gallery to the next will be made through monumental, remarkable artworks. For instance, entering into the fourth gallery, a performance work by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla will assure that the visitors are greeted by a crowd of people who happen to all be hand workers.
Roman Ondak will be tracking time recording the presence of each visitor by inscribing it onto the walls. One can only measure the scope of the performance when knowing that 650,000 people visited the last edition of the Biennale.
Jessica Morgan has abandoned the idea of the white cube having collaborated with El Ultimo Grito who has designed a grey wallpaper evoking smoke, versatile enough thanks to the numerous shades of grey and yet creating a muted background that links all the galleries together.
Jessica Morgan said that undertaking this project was a privilege. Curator at Tate Modern, she discovered a speedier yet very productive process in a very engaging environment, the Biennale having given her a genuine carte blanche for this project.
Upcoming event: The Biennial Effect: Artists’ Perspectives, Tate Modern, Starr Auditorium, Wednesday 11 June 2014, 18.30 – 20.20, £12, concessions available
Gwangju Biennale from September 5–November 9, 2014.