In 2018, Busan Biennale(Mentioned shortly as Biennale belowed)’s theme is ‘Divided we stand.’ It reflects about ‘torn apart area’ on the numerous reasons all aroud world: nations, ethnic, regions, often by war, otherwise colonization and/or hostile estrangement. However, this time the theme rather keeps eye on psyches. It would be reconsidered with terms of sentiments and mind. When it comes to boundaries, especially Political and historical context, it seems split and war is common in history. It happened. And it happens, still now. This time, Biennale settles in its mind on the status that we are now in link with World War II- Post war symptom. The traumatic experience through worn-out history remains a territory split between numerous nations, inclusively Korea.
In the divided nation Korea, the city Busan had been the last resort during 'war 6.25'(called also ‘Korean War,’ controversially), It will be in a psychological mapping in contemporary art in the Biennale – mainly of recent years, but also including select historical pieces – as well as a number of newly commissioned projects, in response to the exhibition theme, and current developments in different parts of the world about ‘being parted.’ In terms of territory split between numerous nation states; and not least, Korea, there will be about 60 artists and two venues(MOCA Busan, The former Bank of Korea, Busan) are now in process of setting up for the exhibition.
|Cristina Ricupero / Art director 2018 Busan Biennale, Independent curator
Cristina Ricupero is independent curator and art critic based on Paris. She had been engaged with many international Art projects and exhibitions. In 2006, had been as European section Commissioner in Gwangju Biennale. From 2000 to 2005, having been curator for Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art Institute in Helsinki, Finland. From 2000-2004, she committed as for exhibition collaborative director in ICA, London, UK. For 2016 SeMA Biennale Media City, she conducted advisory board. She curated 《Nuit Blanche Monaco》(2016) with Jorg Heiser and《New Ways of Doing Nothing》(2014)in Kunsthalle in Austria, with Vanessa Muller. Ricupero had involved in 《The Crime was almost perfect》(2014) as curator with many peers in Rotterdam in Netheland. That is the other version of 《Suspicious Minds》in Galeria Vermelho in Brazil. 《Cosmic Laughter ? time wave zero then what?》(2012) had been shaped with Artist Fabian Marti in Ursula Blickle Stiftung in Germany. and there are surely many other exhibitions curated by her. As for writer, she contributed Art magazine [Frieze]. She had presented many lectures in many schools such as Norway NTNU, Kunstuniversitat, Linz in Austria, HEAD Geneva in Swiss, Sandberg Institute in Netherland.
|Jörg Heiser / Curator 2018 Busan Biennale, Art critic
Jörg Heiser is artist, art critic and curator.Now professor in the University of the Arts, Berlin as well as DirectorInstitute for Art in Context. From 1997 for two decades, he had edited Fireze art magazine, still contributed. This editorial activities had been with magazine 'Suddeutsche Zeitung' in German south-bound from 1997. 《Monaco Nuit Blanche》(2016) had been co-curated With Cristina Ricupero, Cristina and other curating exhibitions are;《Hybrid Naples》(2013/2014, Italy, Fondazione Morra greco/Madre museo d’arte), 《Trailer Park》(2010/11, Italy,Teatro Margherita). He organized 「Frieze Art Fair talk program」with Dan Fox and Jennifer Higgie from 2008 to 2013. In the talk series there had been Yoko Ono, Daniel Buren), Jacques Ranciere, Meredith Monk and other great figures. In NOV 2018, his long-term concern about pop art will be incarnated as a book: 「Double Lives in Art and Pop Music」(Sternberg Press).
A: Please tell me about your previous curation experience. And how did you two become a team?
H: We worked together only once from project organized in Monaco, 《Nuit Blanche Monaco》. They introduced a performance festival and asked me to curate, and I asked Cristina to join. We got together to cover the festival. It brought a big success in April of 2016.
R: We’ve known each other for many years, and sometimes I’ve been asked to contribute to Frieze before, and we have common colleagues together.
A: What is good synergy in a team between you? Since collective is becoming a big trend here in Korea, is collaboration between you similar to working in a collective?
H: Collective is something else. It is more than two people, minimum of 3-4 people working together, and it is complicated because they get into fight. It is not always protective. But if you have pre-established good discourse, then you can collaborate well.
R: In case of us, we are complementary. I’ve curated many shows and he has been working more as a writer and editor, so we complement each other. In a way there is a balance here. Sometimes when you collaborate with someone too close, it would be complicated.
H: Also, we complement each other in terms that we don’t have same background. Cristina is Brazilian and I am German, she lives in Paris and I live in Berlin. I think we both have affinity in that we both are interested in themed exhibitions.
A: The number of artists in Busan Biennale is comparatively small, in comparison to previous Biennales. How would you explain such approach?
H: This is a question that we’ve been talking about a lot, and it is what we call megalomania. People say more is better, but we think that more is sometimes worse, because there is no concentration or real engagement. It is just piling up numbers: more artists, more venues, more visitors, and more money.
There are other Biennales that bring together a lot of artists with tremendous works, with a very thin concept on top, like a plastic wrap. But we like to start from a very particular, strong theme and idea and then look for the work that resonates. It is a different approach.
R: Also it’s a lot of new discoveries and younger artist here, which is very specific in Busan. When we applied for the job, it was in December so it was not so long ago. We really need to stress out that we had little time to organize. However, with short time limit, we already had in mind this theme, which is really a funny coincidence. Heiser invited me to this workshop in Berlin and all of a sudden we discussed this idea and two weeks later, there is this job opening for Busan Biennale. It was almost like faith, it’s funny. Well, it sounded like we can do it.
H: We were in the city of Berlin where it is divided by a wall, and this was not the only place in the world that is divided or that have been divided. So we thought, what happens we compare them? What would be like if we showed that in comparison? That was the initial idea that we talked about, and then we developed the idea that addressed Cold War, the future, and science fiction and so on. Then Busan Biennale was open for application and we had the concept already from the beginning.
R: By coincidence it was happening in Korea, which was also a divided country. Also, I’ve done many projects in Korea. This is not the first project. I did Gwanju in 2006 as a curator for the European section, invited for talks, wrote catalogue essays, foundation committee for a prize.. More recently I was a consultant Media City Seoul in 2016, with Baek Ji Sook. So I do know people here, and I thought this could be very interesting. So Korea was not just unknown territory for me.
A: So this was one of the reasons you applied for the curator position?
R: Yes, all combination of reasons. It sounded like a good match.
A: How do you feel about the city? Busan is a unique city that has strong characteristics. In your point of view, what is the locality of Busan and how do you aim to portray it in the Biennale?
H: To be honest, we’ve been assigned to this job in February so we didn’t have the chance to explore Busan fully, to the extent that we would have liked to. If we had two years of time, we would spend months here just doing research, but that was not possible. But we had some impressions and information. For me, it has almost the same number of inhabitants as Berlin, but it feels bigger and more spreading out. In a sense, it reminds me of sprawling development of city like American urban infra with loads of cars. It is also a harbor city. Of course, we know about the importance of Busan during the Korean War, how it was resistant and the city of last resort during Korean War. We also know about the history of Busan as a harbor city for Japanese colonial time, And how after the Korean War, displaced people formed a whole neighborhood in Japanese graveyard. We are very aware of people here know more about Busan than we do. This is why we have a conference the day after opening with Korea experts mostly, discussing the question of displaced people of trauma about the war and dictatorship that is still on-going issue by today. However, I think we have good Korean peers with in-depth experts understanding for the project.
R: We tried to anchor the project here by with working with a group called ‘Plan B.’ They are very Busan based. They know all about Busan. They are helping us with film programs- to contact with film festival, which is going to collaborate with Biennale for the first time. This is the way we are anchoring the project here in Busan.
And more thing, we have some artists who live or was born in Busan. There would be a very specific project on a bus- Artist Yunsun Jung. In the ‘Bus project,’ people would be taking a tour to places and she will reveal taboo. This is a brand-new production specifically for this Biennale.
A: It sounds like you have tried to create a whole context of art based on overall local history, rather than setting a specific location. It sounds as if it is process of mapping rather than spatial exhibition. Were you trying to construct connected sphere of arts?
R: We didn’t have time enough, and we would have loved to do what you are saying ideally, but we do what we can, with the time limit we have, and the paradigm we are in. In that sense, there is this perfect project. There is a bus project that takes people from one venue to another and reveals taboo history that has been traumatized.
But if I would do a Biennale in Paris, I wouldn’t necessary involve Paris-based artists or invite artists to do work about Paris, because people already know much more about Paris. So I’d like to do what people mostly do not know about. Would you do something about Berlin if you had the chance(to Heiser)?
H: People are actually sick of talking about Berlin. The main emphasis is connection of different parts of the world. For example, there is Syrian artist living in Berlin, Khaled Barakeh, and he makes works not related to Syria or Germany, but about Northern Ireland. He went there and saw parallels to his own experience about the divided island, everything separated. He was wondering, what is this to me, as a Syrian artist living in Berlin? This is what we are interested in. Clashing of art, connection of different experiences. And this is what the show is about. Psychomapping is the word that is looking at the territories and seeing psychological effects on people, which are often similar in very different parts of the world because they have similar experiences. Trauma of displacement and incidents of families being torn apart are not unfamiliar in Korea. It’s an important issue here, but is also for Syria, Palestine, Iraq too, for example. So all these issues are connected and resonating across the globe. Of course, divided countries like Korea and Germany are result of the Second World War, where people are gathered and irrationally divided countries without thinking about cultures and ethnics. Now we still live with it, and this is what the show is about.
R: It is about this paradoxical situation with ambiguity and antagonism in people’s mind, in terms of anxiety and paranoia.. A lot of works deal with these things.
H: We already noticed that a lot of these themes turn out in science fiction. If you think about science fiction, like novels and movies, there is always a divided territory. Forbidden zone where you cannot enter, or there is a wall you can’t cross. Think of 〈Hunger Games〉. It’s vertical division of class that is mapped out on the horizontal level of territory. But look the city of San Paulo for example, how there is class division.
R: I would say it happens more in Rio de Janeiro, than in San Paulo. I’m from San Paulo actually, so I can tell precise information. In Brazil there is another division of race, the division of class that is linked to race that comes from slavery. Black people are the poor, White, Japanese, Jewish, and they are powerful, upper class. There is this apartheid in silence, because it’s supposed to be a multicultural country based on the different cultures.
H: Around the world, the far rights are elected as leaders. Think about Philippines, Brazil, Europe especially Eastern block of Hungary and Poland, where there is now a crack-down on free press. This is a turn back, or a roll back after certain moments of progress and liberation, but also failure to deal with progress have been lingering. But like you say, it has something do with logic of social media. Social media is also polarized and divided territory. There is famous quote from Stuart Hall, who said ‘Identity is an endless conversation.’ But if you look at social media nowadays, identity has become an endless rant, not conversation. Everyone’s ranting, it is not conversation. It’s about this medium, because it favors aggressive attitude. Aggressive attitude is favored by the algorithms of Facebook.
A: I’ve read your article and it was very interested about it, which talks about the way how algorithms of the Internet take on the role as curator. How would algorithms affect arts and cultures nowadays, in the digital age?
H: It is already affecting. Some people say some leaders are elected because they hijacked social media and managed to stir in the direction that is favorable to them. But I think that this happens with any new medium, especially in the childhood of new media. For example when fascism was on the rise, it was days of radio. Nazis could speak directly to everyone who is listening to the radio and it affect them much, and now it is the same function in social media. So it’s not a new thing, in this sense.
We are trying to address this issue but to be clear it is not about all of this, it’s impossible. But concentrating on certain perspectives, but we are not claiming to show entire picture, which is impossible.
C: What is important is that we are not attempting for a survey in a sense that we are not going around the world to define things. But we tried to put differing situations that travel around differing countries, and even tried to bring out the young generation. We even chose historical contemporary works. There are several filmmakers from 80s-90s in our show. So there is a historical aspect to it, so it is not discovery of the new. But it is about works that resonates with this topic. It is thematic exhibition that brings in different perspective and does not neglect recent history. We are really interested in quoting recent history.
H: The theme we are addressing is from Cold War, since 1945. But rarely we present this show works from 50s-60s, mainly focusing be on 80-90s. The milestone is ‘the fall of the Wall’ in Berlin. Within the context, films in 1990s would show rapidly changing Berlin after the War and unification.
A: Curatorial concern and artist’s line-up would follow the context? How about the beginning of the project?
R: I would like to say that when we anchored project in Korea, we set up Board of Advisors. I would like to thank them here, Park Man Woo, Lim Min Wook, Baek Ji Sook, Lee Young Wook. We also invited a young curator Park Ga Hee who really contributed a lot by doing the whole younger generation part. It’s crucial that we didn’t just come with European, Brazilian luggages.
A: The title seems to be important in this Biennale, as it sounds like it is based on literature. Are there specific reasons why you chose the title ‘Divided we stand’?
R: There are two titles, and is not exactly the same in Korean with English. The title ‘Divided we stand’ is a word play of ‘United we stand, divided we fall’, which is a very well-known phrase. But it is different in Korean.
R: We talked with Board of Advisors who decided that it would be better for Koreans not to translate it directly and literally.
H: The title is not coming out of science fiction. It’s a word play.
R: Everybody has heard of the original phrase, ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. However, if you say ‘Divided we stand’, it makes people think. It’s an idea that makes people think and trigger the question, why?
H: The original phrase has to do with patriotism and nationalism, and standing together as a nation. As artists, we also question this ideology of nationalism. This is an important too, that is it really true that we are united? Even if we love the idea of being united, at what prize are we united? Do we want to be united at the prize that we are being colonized, for example? It’s a disruption of a well-known English phrase related to nationalism and patriotism.
R: It’s all the questioning of patriotism. It’s playing with that, It’s humor. It is black humor in the sense.
A: Nowadays, city has become a brand, so people would think that being from Berlin gives specific sense of aura. Since you are based in Berlin, people visiting this Biennale would expect that you would bring something about Berlin to Busan.
H: Yes in some way. There is this work by Hito Steyerl who talks about Berlin as an empty enter, and there I Henrike Naumann who talks about redevelopment of Berlin in 90s after unification. It is complex installation with furniture and video pieces, and they deal with this history of far-right terrorist groups for example. Yes, I do have some German perspective, too. But Seoul is also a brand. K-pop is number one in the US too, so it works both ways.
One thing sure is that the form of art that travels the most is film. I’ve heard about film culture in Busan, already from 20 years ago. I remember seeing Korean film in 1980s too. It’s been an important part of culture production that has travelled to Europe.
A: There are many video artists in this Biennale. Why do you think that video is a good medium in conveying your theme?
R: You don’t call them video artist, it was a term used only when video was breakthrough, from the 60s. This is a word that has become obsolete. They do video and photography, too.
H: There are films and videos in the show, but there are also sculptors, photographs, conceptual pieces in the show. There is pretty much every medium in the show.
R: It is true that we do have a lot of moving images, and cinematic perspectives.
H: It has something to do with our subject matter. It’s not that there are fewer paintings about divided nations, but the medium of moving image lends itself to this kind of pshychomapping, because it can bring about strong impressions about what people experienced in divided territories, mapping them out.
R: They tell stories. Although they all not tell stories, for instance others are about immersive installations. They create experience and feelings. Others tell a story with a narrative and plot. There are moving images a lot, but it is good that we are working with BIFF. But I do come from such background, because I have worked in that field for a long time.
A: How do you expect the Busan Biennale to work to the public?
H: We made certain decisions to anticipate audience experiments, for instance we decided to concentrate on two venues rather than five. Busan is difficult city to navigate, and if you are not living here, and if have two days to visit, it’s hard to manage it. It would make sense to concentrate the show to two places, which is Museum of Contemporary Art Busan and former Bank of Korea building. They are very different venues, with different architecture, and themes, so you will see a different kind show. This is a good combination for citizens visiting Busan to experience this show in depth in two days. That’s a normal, healthy experience. Asking people to visit like 12 venues in 2 weeks is a luxury, an elite thing to do.
C: So we tried to be based on human scale. You can visit and experience in two days. The two venues, one is brand new museum and one is architecture from 50s that has eerie, ghostly atmosphere to it. This we decided to place science fiction section, which is looking at dystopian future and disaster, which is not very optimistic theme. The museum focuses more on classical Cold War situation or current, back to Cold War situation. This is basically how we structured things, not to complicate. It is not treasure hunting, trying to make it more accessible. And from the beginning, we really stress out the thematic focus in the show, we hope the people think about this theme.
A: Your theme is about traumas from that experience of being divided and displaced. In your opinion, how do you think people should cope with or get over trauma, and how should art contribute to the process?
H: Art is already trying to deal with trauma. A lot of artists are trying to channeling trauma, they are not necessarily traumatized themselves and often they are too, but whether they are or are not, they do try channel trauma and reflect in the intellectual sense and emotional sense. In an intellectual sense, they are trying to make sense of what’s happening and that is in the way towards healing. We are not in therapy here, so I am skeptical about redemption and solution. We are far away from that, so that’s why we call it psychomapping. Mapping is not changing topography, you are just mapping it for a start. It’s making people aware and making yourself aware. And that’s just a start. But artist have important role. Sometimes in the work we show, it is the artists who are the first to realize things, maybe even before scientists and historians. In the case this works, that artists know something to notice that others have not noticed.