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10,000 Lives: The Eight Gwangjou Biennale Now Open to the Public
Haegue Yang, Series of Vulnerable Arrangements—Concerns toward Personal Limits, 2009, seven light sculptures, various materials, © Haegue Yang, courtesy Kukje Gallery, Seoul, photo: Bob Matheson/ The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

GWANGJU.- The Gwangju Biennale Foundation and Artistic Director Massimiliano Gioni opened 10,000 Lives, the 8th installment of the The Gwangju Biennale. This edition marks the 30th anniversary of the movement that brought democracy to Korea for which the Biennale was founded.

The Noon Award was founded by the Gwangju Biennale Foundation to recognize an established artist and an emerging artist from that year's edition of the Biennale whose work particularly embodies its spirit and theme. For this first award a jury composed of the internationally-renowned curators Bice Curiger, Okwui Enwezor, Sungwon Kim, Akira Tatehata, and Vicente Todoli recognized the legendary 83 year old Gustav Metzger as recipient of the established artist prize, and acknowledged young South Korean Haegue Yang in the emerging artist category.

Featuring works by 134 artists from 30 different countries, along with a diverse collection of cultural artifacts that range from traditional Korean funerary dolls to an archive of 3,000 photographs of people with teddy bears, the 8th Gwangju Biennale is a sprawling, multifaceted investigation of the ties that bind people to images and images to people. More of a temporary museum than a traditional contemporary art biennale, the works included in 10,000 Lives span more than a century, beginning with the exhibition’s earliest work, from 1901, and extending up to the present day through a series of special commissions realized exclusively for the show.

The exhibition’s title is borrowed from Maninbo (Ten Thousand Lives), the 30-volume epic poem by Korean author Ko Un, which was completed this year after nearly thirty years of work. Originally conceived during the two years Ko Un spent in solitary confinement as punishment for his participation in the 1980 South Korean Democracy Movement, Maninbo is a collection of over 4,000 poems, chronicling every person Ko has ever met, including figures from history and literature.

Like Maninbo, the exhibition can be likened to a gallery of portraits. As it unfolds, the show proposes a series of case studies of our desire to create substitutes, effigies, and stand-ins of our loved ones and ourselves. This passion for images and image making is a basic human impulse: it is central to our understanding of ourselves and others, to the formation of our memories and dreams, and is a defining feature of art.

Humanity’s intense relationship with images also produces unruly emotions. We denounce images, smash them, and carry out wars in their name. It is with this in mind that the exhibition also attempts to plumb the darkest depths of representation, by collecting images that bear witness to lives cut brutally short, that act as tools of despotism and oppression, or that function as receptacles of historical trauma.

In addition to exploring the lives and histories that images contain, the exhibition also engages with the increasingly complex lives of images themselves. In a world now inundated with a seemingly endless stream of photographs and digital phantasms, where a picture can be transformed into an icon overnight, the exhibition attempts to understand how images have been transformed though recent social and technological upheavals.

The Gwangju Biennale | Massimiliano Gioni | Bice Curiger | Okwui Enwezor | Sungwon Kim |

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