Yun Cheagab, the artistic director of Busan Biennale 2016, explains why the exhibition format of biennials is most effective on a lower budget and in cities where cultural capital and assets are relatively deficient. In a city like Busan.

Busan Biennale Dennis Oppenheim

Until the 30th of November 2016, the Busan Museum of Art and KISWIRE Suyeong Factory transform into a 16,500-square-metre public sphere of conversations on art, architecture, design, performance, and plenty more. Following suit to its last installment, Busan Biennale 2016 awaits over 240,000 visitors of which 7% come from other parts of the globe. The congregation of artists and scholars, from all diversities, ponders and discusses the past and the future of humanity in the present moment, while catalysed by the surroundings of 330 artworks from around 120 artists from 23 different countries. This year’s biennial is themed “Hybridizing Earth Discussing Multitude”, focusing on igniting magnetism through the invisible driving force of human vitality.

Yun Cheagab, appointed as the artistic director of Busan Biennale 2016, zealously affirms that this year’s edition is a window to look back through onto the past. The art history scholar and current director of the HOW Art Museum in Shanghai, China, brings into focus the relative notion of envisioning the future of one’s reality constructed by his past and present through exchanges with contemporary art. The dynamism in the convergence of human multiplicity counteracts the cultural stagnation of global capitalism.

Yun observes a conspicuous shift in biennial discourse from the prevalent “present state of mankind”, popularised since 1989 for around two decades, to today’s focus on the future of mankind seen in the “All the World’s Futures” theme at the 56th Venice Biennale and this year’s Gwangju Biennale. On the contrary, this change does not negate the here-and-now narrative intrinsic to biennials. Looking back at the Lost Decade, which started in the 1980s, where Japanese purchasing became a byword for excessive spending in the art market, driving up the prices of works by Van Gogh, Monet or Picasso, until the bursting of the ‘bubble economy’; contemporary art was caught up in the eye of the capitalist storm. The global society has since undergone a digital revolution. Technology is the consumerist wolf in sheep’s clothing that preoccupies the present state of humanity. Artistic dialogues turn by virtue to the uncertainty of the future.

Busan, being the second largest metropolis in South Korea and the centre of the country’s ‘Southeast Economic Zone’, falls fittingly into the mold of modern consumerism. Forewarned by Dostoevsky in the early 1860s and echoed by contemporary political theorists like Sloterdijk and Fukuyama, the advancement of technology and globalisation of contemporary art in South Korea, models after the London Crystal Palace paradigm of “a location [that] is not a blind spot in a field, but rather a place in which one sees that one is seen,” as argued Sloterdijk in In the World Interior of Capital: Towards a Philosophical Theory of Globalisation (2013). Biennials function like many large-scale international art exhibitions, where the site-specificity and the “spectacularization” of the event triggers a certain destination culture to the biennial location.  Paradoxically, in its purest nature, biennials “resist the institutions and mores of the art scene,” Yun iterates intently.

Indeed, much resistance stems from the origin of the Busan Biennale. In 1981, the formerly known Busan Youth Biennale was initiated by a group of local artists in the city, much like their YBAs (Young British Artists) counterparts. Yun expresses concerns over the potential regional egoism due to its spontaneous beginnings. The fulfilment of this event, resulting from this year’s Busan Biennale under his direction, relies on great tolerance from the locals to accept the global, rather than vice versa. “A biennial is isolated when it does not accept difference,” at the same time, states Yun, stressing the importance of balancing homogeneity caused by Western-centrism. “This Busan Biennale is about such limits and tension.”

Busan Biennale Zadok Ben David

Yun is extremely conscious of the hybridity of society shaping art. “I hope the foreign works and artists exchange with one another, thereby creating another meaning to creation,” Yun’s rationale for this year’s Busan Biennale is to witness change in himself and the object through vitalism that is allowed by this format of art exhibition. While he remains doubtful of the current concept and philosophy of the external world influencing the global infrastructure of the art scene, he emphasises his study on the incessant spatial and temporal codependence with art and human existence; distinguishably so in his rumination on the reverberation with the exhibition space, KISWIRE Suyeong Factory. Rather riddle-like, Yun alludes to the Busan Biennale partnership with the factory as being like a football team practicing on a rented football pitch. The limitations to appropriating the functions of the space according the vision of the biennial require further studies from the artistic director.
Biennial, with its mercurious disposition, is effective as an artistic locomotive of assembly and concatenation. This form of art exhibition is made effective because of its natural disinclination to be fossilised by any kind of identity. As the branches of the biennial archetype stretch to all corners of the world, efforts in realising more of this unique agent in the presentation of contemporary art accentuate its relativist concept, individual to its curators, directors, and visitors.

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