Why ‘Ghosts, Spies, and Grandmothers’?
Park Chan-kyong (Artistic Director of the Mediacity Seoul 2014)
SeMA Biennale Mediacity Seoul 2014 is held at the Seoul Museum of Art and Korean Film Archive. Celebrating its 8th anniversary this year, the main theme of Mediacity Seoul 2014, different from its previous themes, is ‘Asia.’ The continent of Asia has shared experiences of intense colonization, the Cold War, rapid economic growth and social change in a short period of time, but rarely were there any exhibitions that took this theme as their main subject. Hence, through the keywords of ‘Ghosts, Spies, and Grandmothers,’ this exhibition will look back on contemporary Asia.
Ghosts stand for the forgotten history and traditions of Asia, spies symbolize the memories of the Cold War, and the grandmothers are metaphors of ‘women and time.’ The exhibited works, however, can transcend such themes or make a detour around them to present themselves in the state of ample possibility vis-?vis the viewers. The three keywords are thus three passages entering into the exhibition.
The term ‘Ghost’ refers to calling upon lonely ghosts omitted from the records of history in order to carefully listen to their sorrow. Through such calling, we will look upon the modern and contemporary history of Asia, mainly of the regions that have seriously suffered. ‘Ghost’ is also linked to ‘tradition.’ Asia is the birthplace of Buddhism, Confucianism, Shamanism, Taoism, Hinduism and it is still under deep religious influence. The exhibition focuses on how contemporary artists newly discover the traditions of such spiritual culture, and how they invent new culture in such an atmosphere. We wish for the ghosts that have been chased away by modern science to return through media, the alliance of media (art) and medium (psychic).
The term ‘Spy’ is a keyword chosen to bring attention to the particularly serious experiences of colonization and the Cold War, lived by Asia. The immense violence experienced together by East Asia and Southeastern Asia had resulted in war as well as extreme mutual social distrust; this situation is still greatly influential in this region. The exhibition focuses on the local diversity of the Cold War, which cannot be seen as simply a competition between the U.S.A and the Soviet Union over hegemony. The ‘spy’ theme is explored in a vast range of subjects including taboo, asylum, the hacking of banks’ computer networks, and successful movies. Furthermore, we will be able to witness how the creations of media artists applying code interpretation, information and communication methods look similar to ‘spy’ actions, and how they can totally reverse related values.
‘Grandmother’ is the witness who has endured and lived the ‘Era of Ghosts and Spies.’ The recently resurged conflict among Asian countries concerning the issue of comfort women reminds us once again of the fact that women exist at the core of the harm suffered by colonization and war. On the other hand, in traditional Korean culture, grandmothers were associated with the image of a woman praying to the Divinity of Heaven and Earth for the benefit of her posterity, with a bowl of fresh water in front of her. Probably, ‘grandmother’ is a powerless being against authority, but the endurance and compassion represented by the traditional image of the grandmother can be reflected upon as an active value surpassing such power in the moral sense. In this exhibition, grandmothers appear as themselves, not as the wives of grandfathers, nor the grannies of their grandchildren. With regards to history, dementia is rather suffered by the young.
Spies seen in the movies look attractive, but ‘spies’ in the news are terrifying. One should worship god in ancestral ceremonies but stay far away from the ghosts you encounter during the night. Grandmothers should be respected but in reality they are expelled outside of the huge wave of praise for the young. You notice them sometimes, but they are generally difficult to spot; or one does not wish to see them, or should not see them. They are skilled in silence and possess top-level information. Hence they cry out, confess, disclose or testify. They easily become paradoxical beings according to the situation.
We often comment that we get a glimpse of a certain hope for change from the paradox of the rare ecosystem being preserved by the DMZ of the Korean peninsula.
As such, Mediacity Seoul 2014 is a platform of collective intelligence that strives to cultivate a new hope in the human community from the hints of spells, codes, and dialects used by ghosts, spies, and grandmothers. I hereby express my sincere gratitude to the 42 artists and more than 40 film directors participating in the exhibition.