2012 Gwangju Biennale: Various Venues

By Yao, Pauline J. | Artforum International, December 2012 | Go to article overview

2012 Gwangju Biennale: Various Venues


Yao, Pauline J., Artforum International


THE 2012 GWANGJU BIENNALE, titled "Roundtable," was the very image of contradiction: Diverse perspectives convened--collided?--around the idea of collaboration itself, turning the act of assembling shared viewpoints into one of radical dispersal. Although its catalogue did make the most of its name, convening a "Roundtable on 'Roundtable," the exhibition's dedication to the anodyne metaphor of exchange was ill suited to the wildly divergent opinions and positions of its organizers. Unfolding across the five gallery spaces of Gwangju Biennale Hall and as far as five off-site venues, "Roundtable" from the start was vexed in delivering the egalitarian exchange its name implied. One would not, of course, expect a biennial with six artistic codirectors to yield a cogent, singular vision--indeed, this could have been part of its promise, to realign the stakes and escape the (often male) solo-curator-as-author cliche. But few might have predicted the tensions surrounding this edition's all-female team of Nancy Adajania, Wassan Al-Khudhairi, Marni Kataoka, Sunjung Kim, Carol Yinghua Lu, and Alia Swastika to implode so visibly in the form of individually conceived subthemes, a bifurcated floor plan, and awkward curatorial devices that seemed bent on enforcing separation rather than encouraging productive intersections.

If its predecessor, "10,000 Lives," set forth a new biennial model based on a tightly curated, historically minded museum approach, "Roundtable" reverted to the familiar, more-is-more biennial trope, evident not only in its disparate themes but also in its inclusion of more than ninety artists and collectives from forty-four countries, and copious site-oriented productions, on-site artist residencies, and projects that solicited interaction with the city of Gwangju and its citizens. At times, these efforts tended toward the boastful--noticed in the positioning of three prized commissions by prominent artists Mark Bradford, Do-Ho Suh, and Michael Joo at the entrance of Biennale Hall--or skewed toward quaint if predictable tactics of installationist intervention that played out in dilapidated housing (Abraham Cruzvillegas) or a pristine Buddhist temple (Wolfgang Laib).

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The six subthemes--"Logging In and Out of Collectivity," "Re-visiting Histories," "Transient Encounters," "Intimacy, Autonomy and Anonymity," "Back to the Individual Experience," and "Impact of Mobility on Space and Time"--struggled under the weight of their own inconsistent articulations. Commingling themes in the same space allowed for some bizarre pairings, including Dane Mitchell's delicate handblown glass bulbs, "charged" with shamanistic energy, situated alongside Pedro Reyes's musical instruments crudely fashioned from recycled firearms. Installed in a ramshackle corner of Daein Market, Kim Beom's magnificent video Yellow Scream, 2012, instructing viewers on how to paint sound, was not only easy to miss, it would have benefited from proximity to his large maze canvas Untitled (Intimate Suffering #8), 2008, in Biennale Hall, also a meditation on the practice of painting. The divisive atmosphere was briefly disrupted by Aki Sasamoto's Centrifugal March, 2012, an installation of revamped furniture, suspended ice cubes wired to sound amplifiers, and wall drawings that came alive during her idiosyncratic performance-monologue probing issues of life, death, and reincarnation. …

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