Busan Biennale 2020 examines the city and tries to expand the various spectrums of a metropolitan through artistic expressions. At Busan Biennale 2020, ten fiction writers and one poet were invited to write on the characteristics of the city of Busan as a conceptual basis for selecting the artists, each responding through new commissions and existing works within the context of the exhibition. The authors—which represent different generations, genres, and writing styles—have each created and written fictional layers around and about the city, some with direct reference to Busan, others through indirect and ephemeral urban tales involving the locale. Mixing past, present, and future, the artists and writers involved in Words at an Exhibition — an exhibition in ten chapters and five poems use Busan as a backdrop in ways that create a narrative that simultaneously combines reality, history, and imagination through experiences of contemporary fiction, a focus on soundscapes and film works, as well as paintings, photographs, sculptures, and site-specific installations.
The title of the exhibition is derived from the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s (1839–1881) Pictures at an Exhibition (1874). This suite of ten piano compositions is a sonic depiction of ten works by the artist Viktor Hartmann, a friend of Mussorgsky, who passed away in 1873. At its core, Pictures at an Exhibition is an homage and a remembrance for Viktor Hartmann. Borrowing this approach of translation—from one artistic expression into another medium—Busan Biennale 2020 will transform the exhibition into an act of homage that extends across writing, sonic artworks, and contemporary commissions.
Busan Biennale 2020 will be held across three venues that span the old town, Yeongdo Harbor, and Eulsukdo in an attempt to summon the diversity of the city and its history. The selected exhibition spaces encompass exact locations mentioned in the fictional texts and poems. To come as close to some of the places mentioned in the short stories—which include sites such as 40 stairs, the American Cultural Center (currently Busan Modern History Museum), Gukje Market, and Jagalchi Market, among others—spaces located in the central area of Jung-gu have been selected as exhibition sites. The Yeongdo bridge, shipyards, Kangkangee Villages, and Bongrae Cathedral are likewise mentioned in the stories—to represent these, a warehouse space in the harbor has also been selected as an exhibition venue. The final site, which will act as the main venue for this edition of the Busan Biennale 2020, is the Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan (MOCA), located on Eulsukdo, and represents the western part of Busan.
The process of this exhibition is important, and equally so is the exploring of the venues and areas of the city. The audience will be able to tour significant areas and symbols of the modern Korean history by walking from Jung-gu and old town to the bridge connecting Jungang-dong and Yeongdo. The areas represent both the history and the vast growth and development of Busan and South Korea. In Yeongdo, an industrial port area, visitors can discover migration and transport based on economic revival. In Eulsukdo, located in the estuary of the Nakdong River where rivers flow into the sea, audiences will discover the possibility of mixed cultures. Above all, the attempt to connect the two islands through urban historical aspects and cultural values—between Yeongdo and Eulsukdo— will be conducted for the first time for this 2020 edition in the history of the Busan Biennale. This is expected to revitalize Busan’s western culture and regional balanced development.
We hope that audiences will be able to observe and explore the city through many different fictional layers represented by the artists at this Busan Biennale. It is furthermore our hope that the exhibition Words at an Exhibition - an exhibition in ten chapters and five poems will make the audience get a reviewed look at the city, its history and all the potential hidden stories that can be found in the streets or behind a building facade. This will be a time to feel the space of the city and the sensation it triggers, and I do not doubt that Busan is a city of fiction that opens up to many types of interpretation. Join us at Busan Biennale 2020’s Words at an Exhibition - an exhibition in ten chapters and five poems and walk like a detective in the footsteps of history, contemporary fiction stories, urban soundscapes and visual artist’s film, paintings, photographs, sculptures and installations.