Busan Biennale: The Chicago Chapter

Busan Biennale partners with the University of Chicago’s Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, the Center for East Asian Studies Committee on Korean Studies (UChicago), and Empty Bottle Presents to host a year-long series of projects with artists, musicians, and writers.

Program Launches March 5 with artists Kim Gordon and Kim Heecheon, alongside Artistic Director Jacob Fabricius and Curator Stephanie Cristello. Details below.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers behind the 2020 edition of the Busan Biennale have partnered with the University of Chicago’s Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, the Center for East Asian Studies Committee on Korean Studies, and Empty Bottle Presents to stage the Words at an Exhibition《열 장의 이야기와 다섯 편의 시》 The Chicago Chapter. The Busan Biennale 2020 was originally conceived and presented in South Korea (Busan Biennale 2020) by Artistic Director Jacob Fabricius. Together with Curator Stephanie Cristello (Curatorial Advisor at the Busan Biennale 2020), they are reimagining Words at an Exhibition《열 장의 이야기와 다섯 편의 시》an exhibition in ten chapters and five poems for a Chicago audience as The Chicago Chapter. Unfolding over the course of 2021, this endeavor will consist of a series of events and exchanges among artists, musicians, and writers with a particular attention to sound art and music.

Premiere Event:
Friday, March 5, 6:00 PM CST
Event will be held online at: https://www.emptybottle.com

Busan Biennale: Words at an Exhibition열 장의 이야기와 다섯 편의 시 The Chicago Chapter, First Stanza presented by Empty Bottle Presents and the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. Featuring artist/musician Kim Gordon & artist Kim Heecheon in conversation with Artistic Director Jacob Fabricius and Curator Stephanie Cristello (all bios below).

Join these artists and musicians from Chapter 6 and Chapter 11 of the exhibition in a live, online public conversation on the intersections between their sonic and image-based practices. Streaming will be hosted online by Empty Bottle Presents.

From Busan to Chicago:
Developed as an exhibition in ten chapters and five poems for the Busan Biennale (September 5–November 8, 2020), Words at an Exhibition《열 장의 이야기와 다섯 편의 시》an exhibition in ten chapters and five poems made use of these literary structures to instigate and organize responses from the artists, musicians, and writers invited to engage with the city of Busan. The title is derived from the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s (1839–1881) piano composition, Pictures at an Exhibition (1874), a sonic interpretation of ten artworks made by his friend Viktor Hartmann (1834–1873). Mussorgsky transformed Hartmann’s two-dimensional works into another medium: sound. By borrowing this approach of aesthetic interpretation and translation, the Busan Biennale 2020 attempted to transform the city into a kaleidoscopic exhibition of geographically disbursed short stories, poems, artworks, and sound.

Zachary Cahill, Director of Programs and Fellowships at the University of Chicago’s Richard and Mary L. Gray Center enthused, “The Gray Center is thrilled to be working with our partners from the Biennale to bring this multi-faceted and dynamic project to Chicago. The Busan Biennale’s interdisciplinary approach makes it a kindred spirit to our organization and the international dialogue it will help cultivate is a perfect fit for our programmatic approach as we all work to support the arts and stay connected during the pandemic.”

In the exhibition in South Korea, language penetrated music and visual art, and vice versa. As a starting point, eight Korean and three foreign fiction writers—from Denmark, Colombia, and the United States—were invited to visit Busan in late 2019. The authors’ previous works represented various genres: historical narratives, psychological dramas, detective stories, and thrillers, as well as stories about gender and science fiction. The eleven authors—Bae Suah (KR), Bak Solmay (KR), Kim Hyesoon (KR), Kim Keum Hee (KR), Kim Soom (KR), Kim Un-su (KR), Pyun Hye-young (KR), Mark von Schlegell (US), Amalie Smith (DK), Andrés Felipe Solano (CO), and Yi SangWoo (KR)—were commissioned to write short stories or poems from, to, or about a city like Busan. The short stories and poems were then given to sixty-seven visual artists and eleven musicians who were asked to respond to one story by making a new artwork or selecting an already existing work that related to the story. The artists were not meant to illustrate the text or poem, but rather use them as starting points or inspirations for their own expression. The stories in the published accompanying anthology function as the skeleton of the exhibition, which imitated the structure of the book through its presentation as a collection of “chapters.” The Chicago Chapter extends this work of interpretation and translation into 2021 as we attempt to relocate these endeavors and reconsider the poetics of metropolitanism and the polyphonic life-worlds it engenders.

Seolhui Lee, the Exhibition Team Leader for Busan Biennale 2020, delighted to see a portion of the show visit the Windy City, noted that, “Despite our success, COVID-19 meant many were unable to experience the Biennale in person. I'm honored that the Chicago Chapter will cultivate a wider audience for the work that was done here in Busan.”​​

Both the anthology and exhibition catalogue are available for purchase through Mediabus: mediabus@gmail.com 

Future Events:
A full schedule of subsequent events, including planned outdoor installations and a concert, will be made available as soon conditions allow for their confirmation.

Busan Biennale: Words at an Exhibition《열 장의 이야기와 다섯 편의 시》The Chicago Chapter is proud to have Portable Gray and THE SEEN as media partners.

About the Participants for the March 5th event:
Kim Gordon studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and has continued to work as an artist since. For the past thirty years, Gordon has worked consistently across disciplines and across distinct cultural fields: art, design, writing, fashion (X-Girl), music (Sonic Youth, Free Kitten, Body/Head), and film/video (both as actress and director). Her autobiographical memoir, Girl in a Band (2015), is a New York Times best seller. Gordon is represented by 303 Gallery in New York City and has had solo shows at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. 

 Kim Heecheon pays attention to the life of contemporary people based on a mix of individual experiences and the trend of the times. He presents a diversity of critical views on reality by constantly deconstructing and re-combing the boundaries between the virtual and physical world, using digital media. Kim Heecheon studied architecture at the Korea National University of Arts, Seoul. Since 2015, his works have increasingly been shown in an international context, including 2016 at the SeMA Biennale Mediacity Seoul, Seoul Museum of Arts, 2016 at the Kunsthal Aarhus, 2016 and 2017 at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, 2017 at the 15th Istanbul Biennale and the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, 2018 at the 12th Gwangju Biennale, Nam June Paik Art Center, Yongin, and Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, and 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila. Solo exhibitions were shown in 2018 at the Doosan Gallery, New York, and the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Kim Heecheon is a winner of the Mirae Award of the Parkgeonhi Foundation 2013 and the Doosan Yonkang Art Award 2016. In 2018 he was Artist-in-Residence of the Doosan Yonkang Foundation in New York. Kim Heecheon lives and works in Seoul, South Korea.

Stephanie Cristello is a curator, writer, and contemporary art critic living in Chicago. She is the founding Editor-in-Chief of THE SEEN, Chicago's International Journal of Contemporary & Modern Art, currently serves as the Director / Curator at Chicago Manual Style, and 2020–21 Guest Curator at Kunsthal Aarhus (Denmark) and the Malmö Konstmuseum (Sweden). Her writing has been published in ArtReviewElephant Magazine, Frieze Magazine, BOMB Magazine, OSMOS, Mousse Magazine, and Portable Gray published by the University of Chicago Press, in addition to numerous exhibition catalogues nationally and internationally. She graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013 with a Liberal Arts Thesis in the Visual Critical Studies Department. In 2020, she was a Curatorial Advisor to the Busan Biennale. Her forthcoming books are Theodora Allen: Saturnine (Motto, 2021) and Barbara Kasten: Architecture and Film 2015–2020 (Skira, 2021).

Jacob Fabricius currently serves as the Artistic Director for Kunsthal Aarhus in Denmark. His career includes stints as associated curator at Cneai in Paris, France (2015–2016), artistic director at Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg (2013–2014), artistic director of Malmö Konsthall in Malmö, Sweden (2008–2013), and curator of CASM in Barcelona, Spain (2006–2008). Some of the major exhibitions he has planned recently include iwillmedievalfutureyou1, Art Sonje Center, Seoul, South Korea (2019), SUPERFLEX’s We Are All In The Same Boat, MOAD, Miami, USA (2018), Gillian Wearing’s A Real Danish Family, Copenhagen, Denmark (2017), and Leisure, Discipline and Punishment, the 6th Biennale of Moving Images, Mechelen, Belgium (2013). His is the Founder and Editor of the publishing projects Pork Salad Press and Old News. Fabricius served as the Artistic Director of the last iteration of the Busan Biennale, Busan, South Korea (2020).


About the Partner Organizations:
Initiated in 1981 as the Busan Youth Biennale, Busan Biennale has continued for 40 years. The merging of the Sea Art Festival and the Busan Outdoor Sculpture Symposium in the early 2000s created the Busan Biennale as it is today, which is distinctive to other biennales because it initiates the spontaneous participation and commitment of local artists. This edition of the Biennale focuses on Busan more than any of its predecessors and calls for a range of public participation. It is an attempt to take into account the necessity to reflect on the relationship between the Busan Biennale and the region. ​

The Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry was founded in 2011 as a forum at the University of Chicago for experimental collaborations between artists and scholars. Gray Center activities take place all over campus (encompassing various divisions, departments, and programs), across the community, throughout the city, and beyond. Through its various programs—including the Mellon Residential Fellowships for Arts Practice and Scholarship, exploratory research initiatives, the monthly Sidebar conversation series (aka FarBar in 2020-21), our Gray Sound series of experimental music and sound performances, international conferences, and institutional collaborations—the Gray Center seeks to foster a culture of innovation and experimentation at the intersection of arts practice and scholarship.

Empty Bottle Presents, or EBP, is the production and curatorial arm of Empty Bottle that handles any events that take place outside of the four walls of the venue. Examples of EBP happenings range from street festivals to pop-up concerts to partnerships with internationally recognized organizations. Empty Bottle was founded in 1992 and remains one of Chicago’s most important venues for music.

Founded in 1959, the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago (CEAS) serves as an interdisciplinary nexus and clearinghouse for East Asian studies and an important resource for faculty and students across the University. CEAS supports academic activities, research, outreach, and public events to promote greater understanding of China, Japan and Korea. The CEAS Committee on Korean Studies is comprised of University of Chicago faculty with a scholarly interest in Korean subjects. The Committee coordinates and supports Korea-related programs throughout the University and presents a wide variety of Korea-related outreach activities both on and off campus. It also seeks to partner with other entities locally, regionally, nationally, and globally to build Korea awareness and strengthen Korean studies.

* Above: Image by Bae Jimin and design by ShinShin.