“The hub of Asian art and culture,” Asia Culture Center Cwangiu is started in last September, with its partial opening programs. The Center’s Asian Arts Theatre presented the Opening Festival (September 4th to 20th), attracting huge public attention with the artworks of many artists including Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Kim Sung Hwan & David Michael DiCregorio. And the Center’s exhibition space, ACC Creation hosted Interrupted Survey: Fractured Modem Mythologies (September 4th to September 3rd, 2017), curated by Anselm Franke. With the artworks of 7 international artists and groups, the exhibition unraveled the identity issue of Asia after the colonization and modemization.
“The biggest culture project since Dangun(the legendary founding father of Korea),” “a supersize national project” and “a mammoth complex of cultural facilities” are some of the expressions for Asia Culture Center(ACC) in Gwangju, which is partially opened in September 4th. Gwangju Songjeong station is 2 hours from Seoul by KTX, where the ACC can be found by taking an additional 30min subway ride. After emerging from the subway exit, the scenery outside is perhaps unexpected. The splendor that is usually associated with large institutions such as the National Museum of Korea and Seoul Arts Center is absent. Instead, only a building under construction and some stores in the periphery can be seen. The scale of ACC is 4 stories above ground with a further 4 basement levels occupying a site 134,825㎡. All the facilities are placed underground, except the old Jeonnam Provincial Office, which will be the Culture Exchange building in the future. The whole institution of ACC is hard to see at first glance but as you move through down through the complex, the 5 institutions (ACC Archive & Research, ACC Creation, ACC Culture Exchange, Asian Arts Theatre, and ACC Children), encircled around Asian Culture Plaza and aisles, open up to the sky giving a feeling of be transcended to another place and time.
The ground plan of ACC was founded in the Participatory Government era of 2004. In 2006 a Special Act on the Hub City of Asian Culture was enacted , and then in 2008 the construction was began. The whole process up until the partial opening last September took 11 years. However, the time invested in formulating the contents was considerably shorter at just 1 year. Consequently some programs are presented first and others will be shown in November. I visited ACC 3 times every weekend throughout September and saw the Plaza, which was always crowded with the family audiences, despite of the depth of contents. Especially, each Institution was filled with the people of art community from the capital area, which is remarkable considering Gwangju is far from Seoul.
The best contributor to attract audiences was by far Asian Arts Theatre. Other 3 institutions assigned the artistic director in January, 2014, but the Theatre appointed Kim Seonghee in June, 2013. This instilled a new sense of urgency and sped-up the opening preparations. Among the 5 institutions, the Theatre solely presented the whole program. The Theatre commenced with Opening Festival (September 4th to 20th) and presented 2015 - 2016 Season Program including Asia Window (October 8th to May 15th, 2016) and Our Master (October 22nd to May 29th, 2016). For the Opening Festival, the Theatre gave a Contemporary Talk from January to July in Doosan Art Center. Some of the participating artists presented their projects and joined in discussions with different film directors, critics and curators, which gained the attention of audiences from the capital area. In the period of Festival, the Theatre held 5 international events including Atelier for Young Festival Managers of European Festivals Association and Asia Conference of Open Network for Performing Arts Management of Japan. Among the 33 staged artworks of the Festival, 21 complete works were produced, co-produced and reproduced by the Theatre. Most of these works will be part of the scheduled worldwide tour. The total number of audiences of the event was 10,675 and about 60 percent of them paid for the event.
The opening artworks of the Opening Festival was presided over by the Malaysian film director, Tsai Ming-liang's The Monk from Tang Dynasty and the closing work was Claude Régy's Interior, which made the first and last day as the definition of “the aesthetics of slowness.” In The Monk from Tang Dynasty, a group of painters drew with charcoal on a large white paper for 50 minutes while Lee Kang-sheng, who is often called Tsai’s “persona,” lay on the middle of the paper, before standing up and slowly walking on the paper. In Interior, the actors’ movements were like slow motion and their Japanese dialog was like slow staccato, and the audience witnessed the performance in an extreme silence. The last performance of Interior was in 1985 and Régy, the maestro, reconstituted the piece in 2013 at his age of 90. The Asian Art Theatre is represented by the structure of Theatre 1, which is different from a general proscenium theater like its Theatre 2, and is designed to transform the stage and seat area quite freely to fit the diverse characteristics of Asian performance art. Especially, one wall is made to completely open, so in the case of The Monk from Tang Dynasty, the performance starts with this wall opening and the actor Lee leaves to the world through the opening in the last scene. Some performances of Opening Festival took full advantage of Theatre’s architectural character, which was divided into 2 theaters allowing for simultaneous performances.
Besides, there were some performances drew attention: film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first challenge on performance art Fever Room Kim Sung Hwan and David Michael DiGregorio’s A Woman Whose Head Came Out Before Her Name South African director Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B, which presents the pain of Africans and cruelty European imperialism in the colonial era by “exhibiting” the actors like dioramas in the museum of anthropology; and British author Tim Etchells’s That Night Follows Day - A Rehearsed Reading, which is remade into a reading performance and performed by 16 elementary school students of Gwangju.
ACC Creation, which is right next to the Theatre, is the exhibition space. Mok Jin Yo is the art director of ACC Creation, which runs 4 multi-purpose spaces for exhibition programs (Space 1- 4), 2 spaces for open lab for public (Space 5, 6) and 3 studios including Machinery Studio, Multi-Purpose Studio and Audiovisual Studio, which the artists in residency program can access. The institution is partially opened with the exhibition, Interrupted Survey: Fractured Modern Mythologies (September 4th to September 3rd, 2017), at Space 4. The curator is Anselm Franke, Head of Visual Arts and Film of the House of World Cultures (HKW) in Berlin. The exhibition explores Asia’s identity crisis between the tradition and surging modernity after the maelstrom of modernization in the late 19th and early 20th century’s colonization, and warfare and its influence to the present. This exhibition is a prolongation of Franke's prior exhibition, Animism, which toured at Ilmin Museum in 2013. For this exhibition, 7 international artists including The Otolith Group, James T. Hong, Trinh T. Minh-ha and Ho Tzu Nyen were participated with their new works. The pieces are mainly video works along with photographs, drawings and installations. A selected number of works will be shown at HKW in Berlin after the exhibition ended.
The institution constructed freestanding walls with cubes for the exhibition, and the construction sound could be heard from time to time. The exhibition space of ACC Creation is generally open plan, without the division of walls and stories so that it is highly flexible. The other spaces are in the middle of preparation and will be active in coming November. Space 1 has enormous size that is extended over 5 levels and 1 level is above ground. The institution will use this space as the exhibition room for new media art exhibition with cutting edge technology, various performances and the international forum, New Making(working title, November 11th to 28th). Space 2 sets I maginary Circle, Asia-Plastic Myths as the concept of opening exhibition and planning to reinterpret and characterize the various Asian myths in the contemporary context, as well as to industrialize the contents. In Space 3, Park Kyong, the architect, will present New Eurasia Project(November 25th to November 24th, 2018).
※ This article was first published in Art in Culture, October 2015. Translated by KAMS, the English text will be co-published by art in ASIA in its Nov-Dec Issue 2015.