Leaving the city for some hands-on art curator training in Gwangju.
Every other year, South Korea’s most recognized and celebrated art biennale takes place in Gwangju, a city with a strong connection to modern South Korean democracy as demonstrated by its 1980 uprising. As all art is a mirror which reflects important issues in society and history through visualization, Gwangju is a very appropriate choice as a location for a large-scale art exhibition, and the Gwangju Biennale was founded there in 1995 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. But while this liberation embodies and connects all Koreans to the bi-yearly event, the people and spirit of Gwangju’s Democratization Movement play the most prominent role in the meaning behind the biennale.
But as with any piece of art or art exhibition, beauty or meaning is often in the eye of the beholder, and there are many ways to appreciate and curate artistic works and events. While most appreciators of art are amateurs, some train as students and/or draw from experiences at museums, galleries or conferences where art projects are being shown, sometimes with the added benefit of being able to participate in a course or have time to pick the brain of more well-trained experts. But for art specialists, museums and art organizations often hold special art programs to enhance the ideas and learning of the next generation of art curators and other experts through training and sharing of different opinions. In Gwangju, one such program was designed by the Gwangju Biennale Foundation for young and ambitious curators who demonstrate a strong aptitude for organizing exhibitions. For such participants who apply and are selected, the Gwangju Biennale International Curator Course (GBICC) provides them with a month-long opportunity to learn about art with a particular focus on the South Korean art scene.
GBICC began in 2009 as a way for up-and-coming curators and art practitioners to gain knowledge and experience for organizing exhibitions. The course provides participants (21 this year) with a month of intensive training in specialized knowledge of contemporary art and hands-on experience in sharpening their curatorial skills. Guest lecturers share their art field knowledge with participants through lectures and discussion sessions whose topics are often are linked to the ongoing preparation for the upcoming Gwangju Biennale.
Each year, Gwangju Biennale curators and the director serve as faculty members for the GBICC participants, allowing them behind-the-scenes access to biennale preparations and discussions about the critical issues facing today’s visual culture. Alongside group studies, workshops and other special activities, art site and artist studio field trips help heighten the participants’ collaborative studies and research. All of this is designed to allow them to widen their network of contemporary art practitioners as they become more knowledgeable members of the international art organizing community. In addition, the participants will remain in contact as they go their separate ways, continuing to collaborate and share ideas as they lay the foundation of their future careers.
Personally, it is really quite an honor for me to participate in the GBICC this year. I was selected as one of the curators from around the world, and am now currently attending lectures with 20 other young professionals from 16 different countries. We all met for the first time on August 8 and will continue meeting daily until the end of the program on September 3. We had never met each other before this course started, but I know once we finish, we will remain connected for the rest of our lives.
Maria Lind, a curator, art critic and director of the Stockholm-based non-profit museum Tensta Konsthall, is the current artistic director of the Gwangju Biennale. This year’s exhibition is titled The Eighth Climate (What Does Art Do?) in an effort to question art’s active relationship with the future through its projective and imaginative qualities. During the first day of the GBICC, Lind highlighted an art piece that embodies this questioning title by Sojung Jun, a Korean artist who four years ago produced a series of short videos. In Jun’s The Habit of Art (2012), the curator showed us several brief but intense reflections of “what art does” – inverse images of nearby surroundings seen on a glass sphere being held in someone’s hand; a slowly built tower of matches finishing and then falling over; a morphing reflection of the moon displayed on water until its liquid surface is broken, etc.
During the first several days of the Gwangju Biennale International Curator Course, my fellow participants and I then visited several different sites around the city, such as the studio of Gwangju Biennale artists Seola Kim and Inseon Park, the Biennale hall, the May 18 Gwangju Uprising archiving center, the Gwangju Museum of Art, and the Gwangju Folk Museum. During all this, Maria Lind spoke in-depth with us about her focus on using the local community to create new contemporary art discourse and how that could be used here in Gwangju to communicate with visitors and locals as well as to make programs with non-profit organizations for the benefit of the community. As I write this, my fellow GBICC participants and I are now looking forward to upcoming guest lectures by National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) director Bartomeu Mari, e-flux art magazine editor Brian Kuan Wood, Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (CPPC) art center curator Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy, and countless others. And of course, we’re all eager for our scheduled field trip to museums and alternative spaces in Seoul which will provide us with a rather different atmosphere than what we’re used to here in Gwangju.
With such a busy month-long schedule, the actual opening of the Gwangju Biennale on September 2 seems rather distant in all of our minds. Running for two months until November 6, adult tickets are just KRW 14,000. For more information on everything related to South Korea’s most famous biennale, visit www.gwangjubiennale.org.
Story by: Seolhui Lee
Photos by: Courtesy of Gwangju Biennale Foundation, Artist Sojung Jun, and Seolhui Lee