Public dictates artwork for Gwangju biennale

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Public dictates artwork for Gwangju biennale

Imagine placing members of the public in the seats of professional curators at one of Asia’s largest contemporary art exhibits. That is the drastic challenge the directors of Gwangju Biennale 2004 have undertaken.
“A Grain of Dust, a Drop of Water” is the theme for the Gwangju Biennale, which will run from Sept. 10 to Nov. 13 throughout the South Jeolla province city.
The biennale staff recently organized a task force, consisting mostly of foreigners with no formal relation to the art industry, to hold these seats. They were selected using government statistics based on their age, citizenship status and economic class.
In January, the 60-person team gathered in Gwangju as “viewer-participants” to review the works of artists they’d like to see in the exhibit.
From now until the show starts, these folks have been asked to negotiate with their chosen artists to produce works that will be shown in a final exhibit.
Rose Cherrington, a British farmer who lost 500 cows to mad cow disease, zeroed in on Damien Hirst, a British art celebrity who once turned brutally sliced-up cattle into art in his work “Some Comfort Gained From the Acceptance of the Inherent Lies in Everything.” The farmer has asked the artist to produce a work on natural disasters.
Miuccia Prada, the Italian chairman of the fashion conglomerate Prada, has selected Korean installation artist Lee Kyung-ho instead of following the guideline of choosing an artist from one’s own country.
Go Eun, an accomplished poet, chose Park Bul-ddong, a participant in the people’s art movement of the ’80s.
“I think this biennale would touch on the notion of mutual response between artists and viewers for the first time,” says Lee Yong-woo, a biennale director who prepared the show’s master plan along with Kerry Brougher and Chang Seok-won.
“This allowed us to put extensive focus on audience studies. It raises an important question of what the public audience wants to see in contemporary art and who they [viewers] really are.”
Separate sections are under negotiation, Mr. Lee says, to document the process of interaction between viewer participants and artists during the biennale.
The main theme, “A Grain of Dust, a Drop of Water,” takes an ecological view in discussing notions of production and extinction. These are ideas, organizers say, that grasp at the essence of social order in contemporary society. Dust is supposed to suggest rupture and confusion, while water makes references to the circle of life.
Overall, the biennale will be divided into a main exhibit addressing the theme and several other sections broken down into sub-themes. The main exhibit will be further separated spatially into four sections with themes of “dust,” “water,” “dust + water” and “club.”
Besides Mr. Hirst, other renowned artists participating in the main exhibit include Annish Kapoor, Brian Jungen and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Despite its massive budget, the Gwangju Biennale has earned mixed reviews from international critics in the past for being insensitive to details of show organization and paying too much attention to creating formal settings. Art in America magazine in 2000 compared the show’s opening to a “trade show extravaganza.”

by Park Soo-mee
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