This year at Giardini was a mixed bag for some of the regular Biennale hard hitters. I walked away with all kinds of disappointment and audible grunts after visiting the US, French and Austrian pavilions. Ditto for the Netherlands and Denmark.
Thank god that there are certain nations on whom you can rely to always bring their A game. And the refreshing thing is that they are not the usual suspects. No, in fact, the countries that I think really put a lot of thought and effort into their Biennale showcases are generally punching above their weight: yes, I'm talking about you Hungary and Serbia. They totally know how to show up a super power!
But if we are going to talk about consistency and staying 'on-brand', then we don't need to look any further than the Korean pavilion. They nail it. Every single time!
This year, with The Ways of Folding Space & Flying, Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho embark on a kind of digital archaeological quest back in time, raising questions about the relevancy of the current notion we have of art and asking what place will art hold in the future?
[South] Korea is one of the countries that always thoughtfully considers the themes of a biennale and carries them out to the letter. They have a way of mixing in their trademark technology in a way that almost embarrasses their Giardini neighbours, but just enough East Asian philosophy in the mix to consistently elevate the works beyond being simply technical.
The title of this year's project for All The World's Futures comes from the Korean words chukjibeop and bihaengsul. Based on Taoist practice, chukjibeop means hypothetically contracting physical distances. Bihaengsul, on the other hand, refers to the supernatural ability to levitate, and travel across time and space.
As such the themes, which in a way also feed into meditation practice, suggest the desire we have as people to overcome our barriers, and that can only be achieved through an eventual leap in our imaginations (and abilities).
The work which is all digital, engrossed visitors, and kept them in the pavilion longer than the works in others did. People would have happily camped out or picnicked in the pavilion had they had the chance.
While they sat watching the huge screens, the protagonist in the film ran like a hamster in a wheel that was like a temporal mobius strip, generating power and giving her the ability to go back in time.
The motif of renaissance era figures working away as artisans was jarring and audible: the clanging of metals signalling the arrival of, the futuristic type...but wait...just who was that person from the past?
The studio quality of the work was undeniable. By also being visible on the pavilion's exterior, something few other nations (aside from Norway perhaps) bothered with, the Koreans tapped into the year's obsession with borders and the idea of inclusion and exclusion.
A crowd favourite for sure. Impressive and slick, and worth putting a half hour or so aside for if you have the patience and want to enjoy it to full effect.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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