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Participating artists have been announced for the exhibition, which dives into metaphors for solidarity and transformation.

Gwangju Biennale 2023 Gets ‘Soft and Weak Like Water’

Abbas Akhavan, Spill (2021). Mixed media Installation. 366 x 366 x 366 cm. Installation view, Phi Foundation for Contemporary Art, Montreal, Canada. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Courtesy of the artist and Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver and The Third Line, Dubai. Photo: Alexandra Dumais.

The Gwangju Biennale has announced the artists, curatorial programme, and title of its 14th edition.

Soft and weak like water will run from 7 April to 9 July, 2023. It will present works by South Korean artists including Chang Jia, Oh Yoon, and Lee Kun-Yong, and international artists such as Christine Sun Kim, Chila Kumari Singh Burman, and Yuki Kihara.

The Biennale's title is inspired by a line from Chinese philosopher Laozi: 'There is nothing softer and weaker than water, and yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things'.

Artistic Director Sook-Kyung Lee—who is curating the exhibition with assistance from Kerryn Greenberg, Sooyoung Leam, and Harry C. H. Choi—told Ocula Magazine that 'recent and ongoing global events like the pandemic, wars and conflicts, climate changes and reemerging nationalism made me think deeply about the role of art and my own position in this changing world.'

'Having grown up with East Asian philosophy, I revisited some Daoist texts and found the metaphor of water in Laozi's Dao De Jing profoundly relevant to these questions,' she said. 'Solutions need to be on the planetary level, just like problems, and art traverses all forms of borders like water.'

Guadalupe Maravilla, Disease Thrower - Purring Monster with a Mirror on Its Back (2022). Gong, steel, wood, cotton, glue mixture, plastic, loofah, and objects collected from a ritual of retracing the artist's original migration route. 302.3 x 266.7 x 241.3 cm.

Guadalupe Maravilla, Disease Thrower - Purring Monster with a Mirror on Its Back (2022). Gong, steel, wood, cotton, glue mixture, plastic, loofah, and objects collected from a ritual of retracing the artist's original migration route. 302.3 x 266.7 x 241.3 cm. Courtesy of the artist and P·P·O·W, New York. Photo: JSP Art Photography.

The Biennale is structured around four sub-themes. Luminous Halo examines the enduring 'Gwangju Spirit', as a model of solidarity and resistance; Ancestral Voices presents artists utilising and reinterpreting their own traditions to challenge prevailing ways of thinking; Transient Sovereignty explores post-colonial themes and issues of migration and diaspora; and Planetary Time imagines a planetary vision to resolve issues of environment and ecology.

'We hope that the visitors will be able to not only witness, but experience the subtle yet transformative power suggested by the theme,' Lee said.

More than 40 new commissions will be presented at the Biennale, including several collaborations with local groups in Gwangju. New York painter Aliza Niesenbaum will work with Gwangju's Shinmyeong theatre group, for instance, while Soungui Kim's multi-channel video installation will feature students from Chonnam Girls' High School.

New works by lesser-known women artists will also be a key part of the Biennale, according to Lee, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Betty Muffler, the Mata Aho Collective from New Zealand, Buhlebezwe Siwani from South Africa, and Singaporean-British Minimalist Kim Lim. —[O]

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