The Korea Herald


Gwangju Biennale 2016 explores future

Led by Swedish curator Maria Lind, 2016 event questions the role of art today

By Lee Woo-young

Published : Sept. 5, 2016 - 17:13

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GWANGJU – The Gwangju Biennale, now in its 11th year, seeks to depart from the typical showcase of large-scale avant-garde art, offering instead philosophical accounts of the society we live in and the future we will soon confront.

Instead of wowing visitors with large-scale installations and flashy media works, the biennale this year presents art projects -- more than 250 artworks by 120 artists and teams from 37 countries are on display -- that invite viewers to stand in front of artworks and ponder about society and the future.

“This year’s biennale reflects questions we had -- What does a biennale mean today? Why do they exist? What role should they play?” said Park Yang-woo, president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation at the press preview on Sept. 1.

Swedish artistic director Maria Lind and her curatorial team created the main exhibition as a “kaleidoscope of the complexities” of the world we live in. Artworks in Gallery 1, for example, explore a variety of social issues such as urbanization, democracy uprisings and the fast paced technological progress.

“Contemporary art is heterogeneous. If you think of philosophy, religion and science, they are all forms of understanding. But the major difference between contemporary art and others is that contemporary art includes all the others,” said Lind, former director of the graduate program at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and former director of the Stockholm arts organization IASPIS.

Viewers watch films at the Gallery 2 at the Gwangju Biennale exhibition hall. (Yonhap) Viewers watch films at the Gallery 2 at the Gwangju Biennale exhibition hall. (Yonhap)

The biennale greets visitors with artist Dora Garcia’s Nokdu Bookstore at Gallery 1. The recreated book store, which served as a focal point of the May 18 Gwangju Democracy Uprising in 1980, displays books and magazines that served as the foundation of the democracy movement led by college students.

More relevant social issues are explored by Gwangju-based artist Park In-seon whose eye-catching paintings depict old houses, debris and construction materials from urban development projects. Park assembled the images from the photographs she took at urban development sites in Gwangju.

Gwangju’s landscape also inspired Tommy Stockel, who 3-D scanned rocks found on the streets of Gwangju and recreated their shapes manually using scissors, paper and glue sticks. He then turned some of them into animated characters that viewers can download to their smartphones from app stores.

Gallery 2 displays sets of film projects with no lights. The dim exhibition space allows viewers to concentrate on the art films that are being shown, including Julia Sarisetiati’s “Indo K-Work,” documenting Indonesian migrant workers in the city of Ansan and Jung Eun-young’s video about an all-female cast traditional theater play in Korea.

The biennale exhibition also continues outside the main Gwangju Biennale exhibition hall. More interactive art projects are taking place at 11 spots in the city, including the Asia Culture Center, 5.18 Archives, Duam2-dong Nuribom Community Center, Mudeung Museum of Contemporary Art and Uijae Museum of Korean Art. 

Installation view of “New Eelam” at the Asia Culture Center (Gwangju Biennale) Installation view of “New Eelam” at the Asia Culture Center (Gwangju Biennale)

At the Asia Culture Center, UK-based artist Christopher Kulendran Thomas envisions a time in the future when people can travel anywhere and find places to stay and live without the involvement of realtors.

“You could be wherever you need to be to be inspired. Whenever and wherever, you will always have a home. Imagine a citizenship could be fluid beyond borders. We think this could be possible when essentials like housing are collectively shared,” narrates the promotional film about the ongoing flexible housing subscription project that the artist started in 2006. The concept is promoted through advertising panels and mixed-media installations.

“We plan to make housing more like information,” said the artist during the press preview, comparing the future housing model with music and movie subscription services like Netflix.

Efforts to improve lives started a few months ago at Duam-dong where Slovenian artist Apolonija Sustersic and Korean artist Bae Dari are staying for the cooperative art project “Master Plan for Duamdong.”

The artists and the Community Center of Nuribom have held a number of discussions with Duam-dong residents where they talked about problems in their neighborhood and ways to improve its environment. 

Maria Lind, the artistic director of the 11th Gwangju Biennale (Yonhap) Maria Lind, the artistic director of the 11th Gwangju Biennale (Yonhap)

The artist turned the discussions into a 20-minute film, which is screening at the Nuribom Community Center during the biennale exhibition period.

The discussions are continuing throughout September where the residents and artists will talk about various topics they haven’t solved such as parking issues and trash problems and other issues related to urbanization and gentrification every Saturday at the community center.

Gwangju Biennale runs 11 guided tours per day that runs approximately from 70 to 90 minutes from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Nov. 6. No reservation is required for individual viewers. Group visitors with more than 20 members are required to reserve for the tour at For more information, visit

By Lee Woo-young (