Biennales are noisy and chaotic.
They are also, at present, nebulous and intrepid;
and their future survival depends on the guarantee of radical and experimental voices. I believe biennales provide valuable public forums for critique. The moment this critical spirit dies, the biennale may die too. We must not overlook the fact that biennales are by nature chaotic, political, social, and local and remember that “beauty” and “elegance” could very well destroy a biennale.
A biennale must be provocative and youthful. I believe biennales should be critical rather than art-historical, and anthropological rather than archeological. The biennale is called a discursive platform, because there is nothing that is fixed, and it is altogether helter-skelter. In the spirit of Walter Benjamin, a biennale requires political participation rather than the surrender to rituals. With the Gwangju Biennale, more than with any other biennale, this has been the case from its very inception in 1995. That is because the Biennale was born out of the Gwangju people’s uprising for democratization and their sacrifices.
Contemporary art is always the central context of any biennale. However, in terms of its mode of practice, one might say that a biennale is not merely an artistic venue as it is also a venue for diversifying the humanities and social sciences. In other words, the spectrum of artistic interpretation in biennales is very wide, and they thus function as platforms for broad-ranging and emergent visual cultures. Today’s biennale goers go “to study” various aspects of contemporary society rather than “to see” an exhibition. From mammoth biennales with vast funding to smaller-scale genre biennales, what is different about biennales from other more traditional art institutions is that biennales try to generate discussion and fun at the same time.
The Gwangju Biennale may be counted among international blockbuster art institutions today, but it prefers to function as a venue where cultural production, in a broad sense, and consumption intersect, because it must be participatory rather than didactic, and it prefers to be a social medium.