Gangneung’s beautiful beaches with its refreshingly cold blue waters attract crowds of tourists during Korea’s summer seasons. Yet, during the winters, this seaside city remains rather quiet and laid back without much sign of overdevelopment. This winter, however, there’s an addition to this destination that will make your weekend getaway just a bit more enjoyable: the 2017 Pyeongchang Biennale.
Founded by the National Special Act with aims of making the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics rich with culture and art, this biennale began in 2013. The venue is a short trip away from the famous SEAMARQ Hotel (which is right on the beach) and the whole biennale will probably take you just around 2 hours. For this year’s biennale, the Gangneung E-zen Convention Center is displaying works of 29 Korean artists and 22 artists from overseas. Running under the theme The Five Moons: Return of the Nameless and Unknown, the biennale has been designed to investigate the objects that are often hidden and neglected from the mainstream, and, through a microscopic point of view, look into their values which play a part in the flow of modern history.
Inside the building, what awaits (and will likely to surprise) the audience is lots of familiar objects: travel suitcases, vinyl bags, plastic toys, and even small shrubs, which are so mundane they are often given no significance in our daily lives. Seldom being granted with a meaning of their own, these objects set in this particular context allows the audience to sense exactly what they’re made of, and hence, to instantly relate to them.
Lee Byung-chan’s Urban Creature – Calling for Mammon, made from mainly black plastic bags resembles a gigantic space creature calmly breathing in its sleep. Looking at it, you might keep hoping it won’t wake up anytime soon to disturb the atmosphere. As if a clandestine monster we keep feeding through pollution, the creature provides a commentary on human desires and their consequences. Singaporean artist Chen Sai Hua Kuan’s Sounds Like 18 is made from plastic pipes and serves on site as a device through which the audience can hear a fading echo of their voice. When speaking into it, you will realize how easily we lack awareness of our own sounds when we speak out or put something into action. Another notable piece is Israeli artist Ori Elisar’s The Living Language Project. Elisar was able to, in a very much artistic manner, harvest bacteria in Petri dishes to expose the Hebrew alphabets in blue. Blue, as he mentions, is a symbol of freedom, yet the way these bacterias (that are scintillating this beautiful color) are paradoxically limited in their small Petri dish. As you continue your journey to the end of the exhibition on the third floor, you will have the chance to view the Urban Creature from a bird’s eye view. This new perspective stirs the question, whether these mundane objects often go unnoticed due to our inability to take in the details, or if it is our natural desires that predetermine the level of significance in objects.