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Nicolas Bourriaud, artistic director of the 15th edition of the Gwangju Biennale, speaks at a press conference in Seoul, Tuesday, to unveil the show’s lineup of 73 participating artists. Yonhap

By Park Han-sol

An Official Poster For The Gwangju Biennale 2024, Themed 'Pansori — A Soundscape Of The 21St Century' / Courtesy Of Gwangju Biennale Foundation

An official poster for the Gwangju Biennale 2024, themed “Pansori — a soundscape of the 21st century” / Courtesy of Gwangju Biennale Foundation

“Pansori,” a Korean musical tradition of storytelling featuring chant-style vocals and drumming, literally means “the sound (or noise) from the public place.”

The 15th edition of the Gwangju Biennale, helmed by artistic director Nicolas Bourriaud, aims to use this musical storytelling as a gateway to “an operatic show you can walk into.”

Under the theme, “Pansori — a soundscape of the 21st century,” the show invites 73 artists from 30 countries, all exploring the fast-changing relationship between humans and contemporary space — the intimate, the geopolitical and the planetary.

“What artists of today see, but we don’t see clearly yet, is a new way of seeing space around us,” Bourriaud, the acclaimed French curator and critic known for pioneering the concept of “relational aesthetics,” said during a press conference in Seoul, Tuesday.

“Everything is a matter of space. Think about climate change [and the emergence of a new topology], disputed borders, DMZ, anti-migration walls, social distancing and segregation policies.”

All 73 established and emerging creatives, including 11 from Korea, are living artists. More than half of them are women and the majority will showcase newly commissioned works created specifically for the biennial.

South African Artist Bianca Bondi's 'Scrying In Astral Ponds' (2024) / Courtesy Of La Casa Encendida

South African artist Bianca Bondi’s “Scrying in Astral Ponds” (2024) / Courtesy of La Casa Encendida

Installation View Of Korean Artist Park Mimi's 'Murmuring In Blue Kaleidoscope' (2022) At The Swiss Institute In New York / Courtesy Of Swiss Institute

Installation view of Korean artist Park Mimi’s “Murmuring in blue kaleidoscope” (2022) at the Swiss Institute in New York / Courtesy of Swiss Institute

The exhibition is structured into three segments, each in tune with a particular sonic phenomenon functioning as spatial metaphors.

The “Larsen effect,” or audio feedback, occurs when a sound source and a receptor are placed too close to one another. The resulting howling noise, produced by the lack of space, embodies today’s world saturated with human activities and intense interspecies strife.

“This section will be like a city center — very dense, very saturated, very noisy. It will address the divisions that exist within our societies, the density of everyday life and the oppression you can feel,” the director noted.

It is here that visitors can witness Amol Patil’s works, which question the caste system in his home country of India, alongside Choi Ha-neyl’s minimalist installations infused with Korea’s LGBTQ+ and marginalized narratives.

What follows is a more open landscape represented by “Polyphony,” which draws attention not only to human presence in nature, but also to the multitude of voices intertwined — vegetables, machines, animals, minerals and spirits.

In this segment, South African artist Bianca Bondi navigates between natural science and occult rituals, exploring various transformations of the environment through chemical reactions, while Russian artist Sofya Skidan invents a new form of cyber shamanism.

And finally, the “primordial sound” — the sound of origins likened to the Om of Hinduism and the residual noise of the Big Bang — takes humans out of the equation, reaching into both the vast cosmos and the molecular realm.

In addition to the main exhibition venue, the Gwangju Biennale will reach into the city’s historical neighborhood of Yangnim-dong. Here, a single creative’s sound project occupies each space — ranging from an old police station and an abandoned house to a cultural center.

Bourriaud also announced his ambition to stage a public interactive project throughout the biennial’s run — a cafe in the central plaza where international chefs will present reinterpretations of Gwangju’s cuisine.

The first glimpse of the forthcoming edition of the Gwangju show is set to be offered at none other than the Venice Biennale during its opening week in April.

“Madang: Where We Become Us,” an archival exhibition hosted by the Gwangju Biennale Foundation to introduce the event’s 30-year history to international visitors, will feature a video essay directed by Bourriaud.

Titled “Learning from Pansori,” the 12-minute video unveils core concepts and extracts from participating artists’ works of the Gwangju Biennale to serve as its meaningful prelude, according to the artistic director.

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