An/other avant-garde china-japan-korea – Busan Biennale 2016



One of the most impressive feature of Busan was the Busan Biennale that I, luckily, managed to catch before it ended on November 30th. There were three projects:

1) Project 1 – an/other avant-garde china-japan-korea which was held in Busan Art Museum
2) Project 2 – Hybridizing Earth, Discussing Multitude
3) Project 3 – which consisted of seminars, lectures, symposiums and art talks.

With a total of  121 artists from 23 countries participating in Project 1 and 2. As Project 2 was held in Kiswire Suyeong Factory which was a little out of place – I didn’t manage to visit it.

The Biennale explored the avant-garde system before the 90’s and after the 90’s – a terrific juxtaposition because there was such a major change in the way art was created after China opened up to the world. Project 1 was co-curated by 5 curators and focused entirely on the period between 1960s to 1980s. I didn’t really like the word “avant-garde” word used to explore the relationships but I supposed anything else would have been inadequate.

At first a little overwhelmed by the dearth of information on the curation, I eventually got the hang of using the newspaper-like brochure about the three distinctive spaces featuring artworks from three regions. They are basically predisposing that China-Japan-Korea shared the same avant-garde spirit even while faced with different social and political environment which ultimately led artists to create dissimilar artworks. Same same but different, as they say in Singapore.

According to the Busan Biennale website, “The China exhibition section will cover the period of resistance and conflict beginning from the end of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1976 to 1995, including the ‘Beijing Spring,’ the Tiananmen Squaer Massacre and the 1996 Yuanmingyuan incident.

In the case of Japan, the exhibition will cover the period from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, referred to as ‘ground zero,’ to the late 1980s to include parts of Japanese avant-garde art, Gutai group, Mono-ha and Superflat.

The Korea section addresses the relatively unknown art movement that reflected resistance and freedom against military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s and ofrmed the basis of Dansaekhwa (monochrome art) and Minjung art (people’s art).”

I really, really liked how the curators took such a simple, over-explored and obvious theme and created additional discussion points that made a viewer think it all over again. I suppose if one were to view this exhibition in say, 1996 versus someone else who saw it ten years later in 2006 and again, in 2016, the responses would have varied due to the context the viewer was in.

In this age of digital information, the influx of data has invariably changed how we perceived the world. When the artworks were created in the 1980s, the artists’ world view must have been distinctively different despite being forward. Being different and “avant-garde” weren’t very productive – it was easier to manage a flock of sheep rather than a wolf. Today, being different has become a prerequisite to being noticed in this highly fragmented world. Societies in East Asia still desire normalcy over distinction though. My Taiwanese background has created an instinctive desire for me to fit in and get along wherever and whenever I am too. You really are the product of a place or an upbringing, carefully constructed layer by layer over time. Those artworks highlighted the plight and earnestness of the artists.

I once watched a documentary stating that Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline series were phenomenal when they first appeared on the market. His works were the face of Contemporary Chinese Art in the early 1990s – a poignant reminder of the Revolution and the families who were affected under the regime.  Today, most might not even know the symbolism behind the red thread – something once powerful has been subdued and silenced in a matter of 1-2 decades.

As Earth’s timeline moves progressively faster with countless of innovations and technological advances, one really wonders what will matter in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years down the road. The Busan Biennale celebrates the past and the present without much foreshadowing of the future – I suppose this is the most beautiful of it all because come what may, the future beckons and we will always celebrate the past and live in the present.

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