BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE, GWANGJU BIENNALE 2014

Gwangju is a tough city.  

 

It was the site of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising where government troops fired upon and killed hundreds of students participating in peaceful democratic protests. Such brutality prompted the city's citizens to take to the streets to fight and eventually overthrow the military regime that had governed them.  An example of how, from the ashes of destruction, new life and fresh beginnings are possible. 

 

The first Gwangju Biennale in 1995 commemorated this historic event and from these highly charged polticial beginnings, it has grown to be one of the most respected and pioneering biennales in the world.  This year's director, Jessica Morgan borrowed the title of a Talking Heads pop anthem to present a biennale that focused on 'the process of burning  and transformation, a cycle of obliteration and renewal’ (Morgan, 2014).

 

I was particularly excited about seeing this biennale, having researched it for my class paper before the trip.  My investigations suggested it would be a full volume show; singular yet diverse, angry yet soft, art with a strong narrative and clear purpose.   I was not disappointed.

 

Morgan assembled an impressive list of 105 artists and mixed pre existing work with plenty of new commissions.  There were familiar names such as Ken Unsworth, Yves Klein and Urs Fischer and complete unknowns such as Tahmineh Monzavi, Prem Sahib and Minouk Lim.  The stand out works for me were the ones which had an associated, often personal narrative or story of human struggle.  All of the works had been carefully selected and displayed, sitting well beside each other as I moved through the spaces.

 

Of the three biennales that I saw, this for me was the clear winner.