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Biennials in the new normal and Kadaan

VIVA ExCon believes that the present is ever-turning. As we live in the age of artistic revolution and surging global plights, the world is taking an even sharper turn.

February 27 Session: Part One

The webinar “Biennials in the New Normal Age” with curators Vipash Purichanont and Sunjung Kim was the first part of the seventh session of V-CON 2.

The speakers were supported by ExCon Director Mariano Montelibano, moderator Tessa Maria Guazon, and interpreters Ma. Teresa Buenaventura and Noemi Lacambacal from Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies.

Session moderator and practicing curator Tessa Maria Guazon stressed that situations will continue to radically change in the coming years. She remarked that the panel discussion will consider how biennials will change as we enter a new phase of world history.

Guazon explained that biennials or biennales are large-scale international group exhibitions that happen every two years; alternatively, they are described as blockbuster exhibitions and mega exhibitions because of the sheer number of visitors they attract and the volume of content they present.

She believes that the biennial platform shaped curatorial practice in a significant way, highlighting the global reach and international nature of cultural and artistic production.

There has always been this lingering question on the sustainability of artistic and curatorial practice, but along with it come answers that champion art as an offspring of change. Pressing world issues gave birth to novel ways of art-making and adaptation. As global art issues reach local spaces, there is a louder call for artistic and curatorial propositions through the lenses of local conditions of practice.

Curator Vipash Purichanont gave a background on the first edition of Thailand Biennale in Krabi (2018). He said that the organizing body of the First Thailand Biennale were the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC) and Ministry of Culture in Bangkok. As a national initiative of contemporary art, the organizing institution of the biennial chose different cities and sites in Thailand for each edition. Going beyond conventional museum setups, Thailand’s first Biennale was staged outdoor on natural sites in Krabi.

Renowned for richness in nature, hospitality, and history, Krabi served as the most exciting site for the international exhibition of contemporary art in Thailand. Krabi is located on Thailand’s west coast facing the Andaman Sea. Purichanont stated that the biennial’s objective is to curate a long-term relationship with the site.

The term site-specific refers to artworks specifically created for a target location. Site-specific biennials have curatorial concepts that attach themselves to exhibition sites. The team behind Thailand Biennale Krabi believed that history is part of deep cultural and ecological interconnections, and thus selected natural parks and sites of tradition as exhibition locations and worked with cultural memorials.

Vipash Purichanont discussed their goal to understand the conditions of the communities through artist site visits and production residency. Curatorial teams work with the locals and art shifts from independent practice to collaborative work, from specialized to multidisciplinary. Thailand Biennale Krabi featured artists Vichoke Mukdamanee, Mella Jaarsma, Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier, and the MAP Office duo Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix.

The second edition of Thailand Biennale is being staged in Korat this year. Vipash Purichanont, Yuko Hasegawa, Seiha Kurosawa and Tawatchai Somkong are the Thailand Biennale Korat 2021 curators.

Vipash Purichanont shared the biennial’s background and stated that the theme for this particular biennale is a proposal and a practice, primarily focusing on the ecologies specific to Korat in an attempt to create autonomous micro-ecologies.

Purichanont highlighted how these ‘ecologies’ do not refer only to natural environments: they also encompass an entire array of elements that surround us, whether they are social, psychological, or informational. He said that instead of a critique of current global capitalism, the proper practical role of art today, in the year 2021, we ought to create a new form of capital focusing on a system of engendering, by leveraging its open, transversal nature.

Purichanont further discussed that the idea of the new capital is inspired by the theory of ‘social common capital’ by Hirofumi Uzawa, a mathematical economist.

The curatorial project was aimed at the natural environment, social infrastructure, institutional capital, abandoned sites, and urban sites. Purichanont mentioned Thao Suranari Memorial Park, Phimai Historical Park and Museum, and Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo.

Putting curatorial practice in a historical context, curator Sunjung Kim told the story of Gwangju Biennale. According to her, Gwangju Biennale was initiated to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Restoration of Independence, to promote the city’s cultural arts tradition, and to pay tribute to the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement.

She said that to this day, Gwangju Biennale strives to raise both national and international awareness of the city’s democratic spirit and to sublimate the wounds of its history into arts and culture. Kim shared how Gwangju Biennale advances Gwangju to the status of a cultural hub for Korea, Asia and the world, providing a platform for an expanded interchange of international contemporary art.

Kim highlighted the active germination of Asia’s culture of the 21st century. She shared that Gwangju Biennale, established in 1995, is the first such art event in Asia and has an attendance today of over 764,000 visitors, making it one of the most popular events in the world. The biennale line-up included artists Sanja Iveković in 2010 and Lais Myrrha in 2018.

Sunjung Kim mentioned the Philippine Contemporary Art Network (PCAN): Hothouse. She stated that the exhibition was organized by the Philippine Contemporary Art Network, which was temporarily based at the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum.

The preliminary phase of the initiative focused on three activities: Knowledge, Production, and Circulation; Exhibition and Curatorial Analysis; Public Engagement and Artistic Formation. Kim said that the word hothouse references the exhibition’s interest in certain situations of emergence that lie at the intersection between sensitivity to the elements (hot) and sensitivity to space (house). She remarked that taken figuratively, the term refers to how forms of action are catalyzed, made to happen every day with intensity and urgency.

Since the pandemic, Gwangju Biennale has shifted to the online platform. Curator Sunjung Kim gave a background on the 13th Gwangju Biennale 2021 main exhibition, Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning. According to her, this biennial sets out to examine the spectrum of the extended mind through artistic and theoretical means.

Kim shared that the ongoing biennale is directed by Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala (February 26 – May 9, 2021) and will feature a dynamic program encompassing an exhibition, a performance program, an online publishing platform and publications, and a series of public fora bringing together artists, theoretical scientists, and systems thinkers.

Sunjung Kim put stress on how the Biennale argues for the primacy of plurality, positing that points of origin and influence ought to be accessed not only through the dominant technological systems and machinic vocabularies traceable to the West but also relate to heterodox ancestries. The 13th Gwangju Biennale included Filipino artists Pacita Abad and Cian Dayrit in its roster of exhibiting artists.

Moderator Tessa Maria Guazon said that curators work around very specific parameters; pointing out how both Sunjung and Vipash worked with sites that have their own histories. Novel concerns also triggered new biennale approaches like online or virtual platforms and revitalization of programs, the idea of online commissions, more local contributions and collaborations in Thailand, preparation of new buildings for the Gwangju Biennale, and extending the duration of the biennale. Biennials are coping and thriving in the face of global constraints.

February 27 Session: Part Two

The webinar “Island Special: Kadaan” with artist Florence Cinco was the second part of the seventh session of V-CON 2. It was organized by the Samar and Leyte team headed by coordinators Mary Ann Broderick and Maria Katrina de la Cruz.

Resource speaker Florence Cinco briefly touched on the semantics of the webinar title. He shared that “Kadaan” is a Waray word meaning belonging to the distant past, very old, or having existed for a long time. This is in a subtle reference to the intimacy of his works with culture and the passage of time.

Cinco discussed his concepts in detail. His work “Sumuroy” is a homage to the Waray hero and leader of the Sumuroy Rebellion (1649-1650), the Eastern Visayas’ uprising against Spain. Cinco’s “Laning-Laning” fully embraced the national culture while “Memories of Time” focused on the fusion of Korean and Filipino cultures. He made the latter during his art residency in Korea. Florence Cinco’s “Aswang” retold the Philippine folklore in mixed media, and his “Convergence Recovery of Memory” provided a visual trip back to the precolonial Philippines.

He pays great respect to people who were unfazed by industrial invasion and continues to flourish in sustainable farming. His painting “Parauma” was created in memory of the remaining farmers in Samar.

Cinco is a perennialist who views art through windows of cultural relations, meditation, and attachment to nature. He is an artist who channels introspection, spirituality, and morality through performances.

Florence Cinco believes in the integrity of belief and timelessness of practice, and therefore translates art to action. His initiatives include terracotta workshop in Tacloban and a community feeding program in Samar, where he serves healthy meals.* (Text by Vincent Rose Sarnate)

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