Literature meets art in Busan Biennale
Posted : 2020-10-29 17:30
Updated : 2020-10-29 19:05
|Nho Won-hee presents two murals “On the Street” and “The Beginning of Words” on the walls of the former American Cultural Center building, now the Busan Modern History Museum, as part of the Busan Biennale 2020. Courtesy of Busan Biennale|
By Kwon Mee-yoo
BUSAN ― The 40―step stairway in Jungang-dong, Busan, is a historic landmark, having served as a meeting point during the 1950-53 Korean War when refugees flocked to the southern city, while Yeongdo Harbor is living proof of the southern port city’s unique maritime culture and shipbuilding industry.
The Busan Biennale 2020 provides new perspectives on the familiar city through literature, art and music, placing art throughout the streets of Jungang-dong and in an abandoned warehouse in Yeongdo Harbor.
Danish curator Jacob Fabricius helmed this year’s Busan Biennale as artistic director, spending months in the port city despite the pandemic. Fabricius came up with the theme for this year’s biennale “Words at an Exhibition ― an exhibition in ten chapters and five poems,” that interweaves literature and visual art
After exploring and researching the port city, Fabricius commissioned novelists and poets to write about Busan and the writers produced a variety of stories, from a detective pursuing a missing Irish writer in the city to a play about electricity. The Danish director recruited writers from different genres, such as mystery and history, to show multiple layers of the city in the context of metropolitanism.
Then he commissioned artists to create works inspired by the writings or found existing art suiting the theme of each writing.
Eighty-nine artists from 34 countries ― 11 authors, 67 visual artists and 11 musicians ― took part in the biennale and their works are presented in three venues ― Busan Old Town, Yeongdo Harbor and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan (MOCA).
“Take a stroll around the Old Town to experience the modern history of Busan and have a look into Busan’s industrial development at Yeongdo Harbor, while appreciating the art of the Busan Biennale,” said Lee Seol-hui, head of the Exhibition Team.
|Kim Hee-cheon installed “A Drill,” a large banner featuring Gangnam Station, on a parking tower, overlooking Busan Old Town. Courtesy of Busan Biennale|
Novelist Bak Sol-may’s “Daily Walking Rehearsals” features the 1982 Busan arson attack against the American Cultural Center. As the novel relates to the turbulent modern history of Busan, the biennale matched the story to the Old Town area, which ran out of steam decades ago when the city center moved to the Seomyeon area.
Art is scattered around galleries and project spaces around the Old Town, ushering visitors to explore the nooks and crannies of the neighborhood.
Afghan artist Aziz Hazara’s video “Eyes in the Sky,” which features children living in a town monitored by drones, is displayed alongside paintings by Busan-based artist Nho Won-hee as a metaphor for violence and conflict.
Two artists’ works are on display together to showcase different perspectives on the scenery.
Vandy Rattana’s photo series “Bomb Ponds” captured pastoral scenery of Cambodia, but in fact those ponds are craters created by bombs dropped during the Vietnam War, while Korean artist Heo Chan-mi drew scenes she sees during her daily walk, using a wooden stick and gouache.
Some works are outdoor, available to the public. Nhon painted two murals “On the Street” and “The Beginning of Words” on the walls of the former American Cultural Center building, now the Busan Modern History Museum.
Kim Hee-cheon, known for his experimental video works, ventured out to a new medium and installed “A Drill,” a large banner featuring Gangnam Station, on a parking tower, looking down on the Old Town.
Sound is another important element of the biennale. Visitors can take a walk around the Old Town while listening to Emeka Ogboh’s “Lagos: 20Hz-20kHz,” which creates a unique experience roaming around Busan with the exotic sound from Lagos. Inger Wold Lund’s “Virtual Dreaming” was designed to provide a soundtrack for a stroll toward Yeongdo Bridge.
|Francesc Ruiz’s “A Room of One’s Own Lily Indie Press” transforms a cooperative space in Busan Old Town into a fictional bookstore specializing in lesbian comics. Courtesy of Busan Biennale|
A group of artists have breathed new life into Yeongdo, a small island connected to the mainland by Yeongdo Bridge, by presenting art at an abandoned earehouseKim Un-su’s “The Seal Inn” provided insight for the Yeongdo exhibit.
Korean-Kiwi artist Lee Yona’s “En Route Home” transforms the warehouse into a labyrinth made of ready-made stainless-steel pipes. Inspired by the similarity between the storehouse and a house, Lee placed common domestic objects throughout the structure, but the objects are obstructed by the pipes.
Kwon Yong-ju’s large installation “Waterfall” is a nod to the town’s marine history, using materials such as a tarpaulin and water pump.
Dave Hullfish Bailey explored Busan in relation to Los Angeles, where he lives, as both cities are connected by harbor. In “Pusan Perimeter in Three Inadequate Descriptive Systems,” he sees Korea through the 1972-83 television series “M*A*S*H*” which shaped his childhood imagination of Korea.
Singaporean artist Charles Lim Yi Yong’s “SEA STATE 8: Polymath” examines the sea as psychological and virtual boundaries.
|Kwon Yong-ju’s installation “Waterfall” pays tribute to the marine culture and shipbuilding industry of Yeongdo Harbor in Busan. Courtesy of Busan Biennale|
Busan Biennale 2020’s main venue is the MOCA Busan, located on Eulsuk Island in the western part of the city.
The museum features seven chapters of the biennale’s stories. Jos de Gruyter and Herald Thys’ animatronic sculpture “Mondo Cane” greets visitors to the art museum. This work is related to Pyun Hye-young’s “The Refrigerator.”
Fabricius’ interpretation of Mark von Schlegell’s “Busan en Rose,” which centers on a missing Irish writer in Busan, is a great example of how the Danish curator bridges literature, art and the city. “Gwangan Bridge jct.-break up between U & I” by Bae Ji-min is an ink-and-wash painting portraying the iconic bridge, while Stan Douglas”http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/”Monodramas” series reminds of a detective on his job, while also having a connection to Schlegell’s story.
Kim Hye-soon, the only poet involved, wrote five poems ― “Ocean View,”http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/”Tundra Swan,”http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/”Jagalchi Sky,”http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/”Haeundae Texas” and “Queen Kong” ― for the biennale, including a few direct references to locations and places in Busan.
Karl Holmqvist showcased his interest in linguistics by hand-writing Kim’s poems and the biennale’s theme in Korean. Lee Seul-gi interpreted formativeness of Korean proverbs such as “Drunk like a whale” in the form of Korean traditional quilt.
|Bianca Bondi’s “The Antechamber,” an installation room full of salt except for a bed with a pond in it, a dresser and a mirror, is inspired by Kim Hye-soon’s poem “Tundra Swan” written for the Busan Biennale 2020. Courtesy of Busan Biennale|
Bianca Bondi is one of the few artists who braved traveling to Korea despite going through self-quarantine to set up her large-scale installation “The Antechamber,” a room full of salt except for a bed with a pond in it and a dresser and a mirror.
“We are living in a system that leads us to death and we are all survivors in resistance like the phoenix rising from our ashes. Nothing is lost, everything is transformed,” the artist said.
Making art amid pandemic
The unlikely situation of the COVID-19 pandemic changed the game for the Busan Biennale.
The Busan Biennale is one of the three largest biennial art events in Korea along with the Gwangju Biennale and Seoul Mediacity Biennale ― and the only one that decided to move ahead this year instead of postponing the event until next year.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major difficulties in international travel and it was impossible for many overseas artists to visit Busan to explore the area and create artwork specifically for the biennale due to travel restrictions.
|Lasse Krog Moller collaborated with the Exhibition Team to create “Meanwhile in Busan ― a journey at the desk,” an artistic exploration of Busan made without actually visiting the city. Courtesy of Busan Biennale|
Some of the art pieces were created in unprecedented ways for both the artists and curators.
Danish artist Lasse Krog Moller believes the street is an anthropological library. He usually visits the target city, explores the city and exhibits what he has found in the streets.
“Meanwhile in Busan ― a journey at the desk” is Moller’s way of exploring the city without actually visiting it in collaboration with the Exhibition Team.
“The artist learned some Korean and looked Busan up on a map and compared it with Copenhagen, where he lives. He also found some postcards featuring the tourist attractions of Busan as an attempt to understand the city,” Lee of the Exhibition Team explained.
Moller’s work is inspired by Mark von Schlegell’s “Busan en Rose,” which features two detectives from Busan Jungbu Police Station looking for a missing Irish science fiction writer. Moller sent the exhibition team on a mission based on places in “Busan en Rose.”
“He asked us to go visit the Jagalchi Market and find out the difference between an octopus and a squid or ask a villager to draw a map to Bosu-dong Book Street. We took pictures of the streets and sent them to Moller, who checked the address with Google Map’s satellite view. We picked up objects from the street and they are now on display here as art,” Lee said.
“Moller explored Busan from his desk without physically visiting the city. Six members of the Exhibition Team became the eyes and ears of the artist and they scrutinized the city on his behalf.”
Moller drew an octopus and a squid based on the seafood merchant’s description. He also drew the Busan Jungbu Police Station and the hotel the Irish writer stayed at according to the Exhibition Team’s description.
“Moller’s work is closely related to the theme of the biennale, visualizing text,” Lee said.
|The Busan part of Kim Gordon’s film “July 24, 2020” was shot by the Exhibition Team of Busan Biennale due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of Busan Biennale|
Los Angeles-based artist Kim Gordon also joined hands with the Exhibition Team to create the video installation “July 24, 2020.”
Taking inspiration from Yi Sang-woo’s “As Boats and Buses Go By,” which features the stories of noodle shop worker Thien and passenger ship crewmember Hara, Gordon asked the Exhibition Team to film videos in places that appear in the novel.
Then the artist edited the footage from Busan with other video clips she found on the internet and filmed with her mobile phone, taking some images from the story to anchor it in a vague symbolic narrative with overlapping points.
“The idea of giving someone an assignment and engaging them in the project appealed to me,” the artist said.
The biennale was scheduled to open on Sept. 5, but it wasn’t able to accept visitors until the end of September due to the heightened distancing measures as the number of COVID-19 cases spiked in late summer.
The organizers tried to reach audiences through an online exhibition when it was not able to open offline exhibition spaces. The biennale offers its writings in audio book format, narrated by 20 citizens of Busan in English and Korean. Artistic director Fabricius guided the biennale in the “Detective Jacob” video series.
Busan Biennale 2020 runs until Nov. 8.