On October 4th, 2012, eighty artists from forty-four different countries arrived in Wanju kun launching the 1st Ecorea Jeonbuk Biennale. Spear-headed by artist and Director Ryu Ilseon, this project brought politicians, businessmen and women, and artists together in the province of Jeonlabuk-do to spend two weeks exploring the broad theme of local and global environmental concerns. A series of different exhibition venues and events were orchestrated to bring the international artists together with the artists and people of the province. The goal of the Biennale was to use the arts as a vehicle to build relationships and to gain a broader understanding of multi-cultural narratives.
The region of Jeonlabuk-do is the home of thriving agricultural production and is renowned for its traditional food and art. The province has been a leader in planning and developing environmentally friendly communities that encourage economic development through sustainable practices. The people from the region strive to live in harmony with nature demonstrating that economic growth and progress do not have to be at odds with our environment. Jeonlabuk-do is reaching out to the world to show how communities can support each other cross-culturally in creating balance with nature while moving into the future.
Each artist was invited to participate in the Biennale based on the quality of their work and the recognition their work has received in the arts. The artists were asked to make a piece of artwork dealing with some aspect of the environment. The two hundred works were first exhibited at the Sori Arts Center of Jeonllabuk-do and at the Wanju Art Center and International Beukam Art Museum between October 9th, 2012 and May 13th, 2013. Many international exhibitions and Biennales consist of large- scale exhibitions in, or related to, a museum. At the 1st Ecorea Jeonbuk Biennale the large-scale exhibition is only the beginning of a series of art experiences and venues. While the artists were in residence they worked at the Bio Herbal Plus Artist Residency and Community Arts facility. The artists produced works on site that will travel around in special metal cubicles to schools throughout the region to give a broader group of people exposure to a wide range of artists work. The artists also collaborated together making installations in Yurts imported from Mongolia for artists to live and work in at the mountain residencies. A performance was put together by a group of Korean and Chinese artists who rolled rice paper up the mountain and painted calligraphic text all the way up the mountain with brushes as large as a broom. Formal and less conventional discussions were held throughout the two weeks. Some of the formal presentations addressed potential roles the arts can play in serving collective problems and solutions. There were also specific forums held by the Abbot of Song-Gwang Buddhist Temple about Buddhist doctrine, and another gathering with Mayor Rym, Chung-Yeap at the Gongam Cultural Center.
The Biennale was held at the same time as the renowned “Wild Food Festival” introducing the artists to how people in the region eat and what the food means to them. All of the dishes were from local farms and made with organic meats and produce. The small local farms are intermingled throughout the Jeonbuk area. The local makali, a delicate and bubbly rice wine, became as popular with the resident artists as it is with the locals. The visiting artists also spent a night at the Song-Gwang Buddhist Temple and had a tour of the Mireuksa Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the ancient Kingdom of Beakje. The renovations of the eastern stone pagoda helped build a deeper understanding of the architecture, history and to further the artists’ understanding of Korean Buddhism. Presently Dongtap is in the midst of an extensive restoration project. Everyone went trekking along the shores of Masilgil Beonsan, Buan, where mountains meet the beach.
Dr. Ilseon Ryu’s vision was to bring artists together from around the world and to support their own individual artistic pursuits while igniting their cumulative creative energy for addressing the global crisis we are in environmentally, politically and economically. Ryu Ilseon’s concept is decidedly non-western, emphasizing collaboration, community, relationship, hospitality and presence. The visiting artists were intentionally immersed in the local community and put into situations where they were able to connect to local artists and people and learn through and with them about the meaning of traditional Korean life. The artists and their artwork were assimilated into the culture as much as possible in a two-week extravaganza and a series of traveling exhibitions will continue throughout the next six months so the impact of the exchange can be shared and more fully absorbed.
The western-European tradition has valued art and tried to preserve it in collections and museums for the sake of culture and community. This is a noble effort from which we all benefit, but the down side is that it can protect art from the community, placing it in an elite and inaccessible realm. Ryu Ilseon did not want this Biennale to be about market value, mass production or capitalist ventures. The “art star”, like the movie star, is created and perpetuated by removal from the mainstream, becoming an object of worship and playing into the cult of personality. This cult of personality and the focus on glamor and appearance is not going to solve the enormous global and local problems facing us. South Korea is suggesting alternatives. South Korea now has its own brand of superstar, but the traditional values and orientation of the ancient region of Jeonlabuk-do are being recognized. The people from the region want to share what they know and how their way of life potentiates change. They are proud of their country and are aware that the ancient wisdom of will be lost if they don’t reach across “party” lines and work together.
Looking to the future, the 1st Jeonbuk Ecorea Biennale looks to brings artists and intellectuals together to create innovative work that can help us envision solutions for the future. It is easy to become hopeless in the face of overwhelming problems but making art is an act of hope and it fills the world with possibilities when it may seem there are none. The artists who visited and made work in Jeonlabuk-do experienced contemporary and traditional Korean ideas for living that emphasizes health, ecology and a respect for others as well as the planet. This is Korea stail Biennale. Taking this message back with each other to their respective countries we are now ambassadors of the 1st Ecorea Jeonbuk Biennale.