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Mar 31 2021

13th Gwangju Biennale to finally open

by Yuna Lee

Installation view of the 13th Gwangju Biennale, “Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning,”  at the Gwangju Biennale Exhibition Hall, 2021. Photo by Sang Tae Kim. Courtesy the Gwangju Biennale Foundation.

The 13th Gwangju Biennale is set to open to the public tomorrow at the Biennale Exhibition Hall and various other venues in the city after two earlier postponements pushed the major Korean art event back by seven months due to Covid-19 related concerns. 

Co-artistic directors Natasha Ginwala and Defne Ayas, respectively an associate curator at Berlin’s Gropius Bau and curator-at-large for Moscow’s V-A-C Foundation, flew to South Korea ahead of time for preparations and after completing mandatory two-week quarantines, set to work installing the exhibition. Among the 69 participating artists and collectives, only three international artists, who also completed their quarantines, and eight Korean artists were able to be on-site. Tonight’s opening ceremony at the Gwangju Biennale Plaza will launch in front of a limited audience, and will feature a sutra reading performance by Buddhist nun and participating artist Jeong Kwan.

The Gwangju Biennale Commission, which examines art’s social role, showcases works by seven international artists around the city’s historic sites this year. Among these are Ho Tzu Nyen’s two-channel animation The 49th Hexagram (2020), exploring the significance of Gwangju’s 1980 uprising within Korea’s history of democratic movements, and Minouk Lim’s installation of gnarled walking canes, Mr. Chai Eui Jin and 1,000 Canes (2014–20), paying homage to a civilian massacre survivor before the Korean War. For the Pavilion Project, which invites select international institutions to connect with the region, Biel’s Kunsthaus Pasquart and Taipei’s Contemporary Culture Lab are presenting respective projects: “Alone Together,” comprising a performance and a film examining isolation, attention, and empathy in an age of digital connectivity, and exhibition “Double Echoing,” featuring 14 Taiwanese and Korean artists who explore their shared history of colonization, war, and repressive rule, at Eunam Museum of Art and Asia Culture Center. 

Titled “Minds Rising, Spirits Turning,” this year’s theme spotlights expanding ideas of intelligence and consciousness rooted in the spiritual, ancestral, organic, and artificial, presenting alternative modes of thinking and healing that counter the global capitalist and imperialist milieu. Originally scheduled to run from September 2020 until February, the event was pushed back to February 2021 last May, only to be postponed again to April of this year in February. It is now slated to run for half of its intended duration, until May 9.

Yuna Lee is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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