Celebrating art and humanity

Azlan Othman

In the southwestern region of South Korea, three hours’ drive away from Seoul, is the cultural and arts city of Gwanju. A visit will not be complete without heading to Gwanju Biennale Hall which displays artworks and is host to famous art events in the Asian region.

ASEAN journalists were recently given the opportunity to look at the topic of Humanity at the Biennale. More than being simply about humanity, it also celebrates the fusion of Human and Community.

Corporate minds, corporate themes, autonomous cars, Apple’s history, Bauhaus (which is a landmark design school in Germany) and so on were on display. Companies including Kia Motors and Hyundai Motorsalso displayed designs focussed on connecting humans and technology.

For the last 23 years, the Gwangju Biennale emerged as a network for international cultural exchanges and is a platform for the visual arts, while producing discourses on contemporary art. The exhibition features the centennial celebration of the founding of the Bauhaus, with a special exhibition hall dedicated to its anniversary.

Bauhaus is everywhere on the design scene this year because of the 100th anniversary of its founding in Weimar, Germany, and it’s no surprise to see the 20th Century’s most influential design school in Gwangju. The display includes a big model of Walter Gropius’ iconic Bauhaus Dessau building (1926), as well as Bauhaus objects, timeline and a wall-sized Bauhaus group photo.

A 24-metre-long tunnel of dancing silhouettes, generated patterns and transcendental sounds called Lucid Dream. PHOTOS: AZLAN OTHMAN
The Ball.Room, where visitors can play in a sea of yellow balls, each with one of 13 feeling-faces on it

The Biennale show itself comes in five parts. The first section is called ‘Humanity and Design’ where visitors enter through a 24-metre-long tunnel of dancing silhouettes, generated patterns and transcendental sounds, called Lucid Dream.

It is indeed dream-like, and the idea is that visitors need to be lucid dreamers to ‘make sense of artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms and biotechnology’.

Another attraction is called Singing People where moving human shadows walk, jump and dramatically take on vivid colours. Korean ‘mixed reality creators’ Dot-Mill said the message is about individuals relating as a community – that may not be obvious, but the experience is extraordinary.

Next is Ball.Room, which is about moods represented by yellow smiley emoticons. There is a room where visitors can play in a sea of yellow balls, each with one of 13 feeling-faces on it. Some of the ‘emograms’ are displayed as big balloons.

The next section, ‘Humanity for the Next Generation’, sets a more serious tone, and its presentation and content are strong. One half is clearly about design and the other about community. A section called HumanCity features a driverless pod by Korean firm KIA Motors, which has also supported many artworks on show that have nothing to do with cars.

Gwangju city may sound new to those in ASEAN, but the Gwangju Design Biennale deserves attention. Its art and design come together well. As for the theme Humanity, whatever it may say about community, it certainly reveals the beauty that humans can deliver, whether they are legendary artists or small children.