Savage Garden Of Knowledge, an Asian CUutural Center Symposium, Gwangju, Sout Korea

The Asian Cultural Center’s Conference “Savage Garden of Knowledge, –Asian Potentia for the New Society”
By Doug Stuber

Gwangju’s version of Boston’s “Big Dig,” the Asian Cultural Center (ACC), is due to open in 2014 after the building and grounds are completed in December 2013. With that in mind, “Savage Garden of Knowledge” an international symposium laid out both the real goals of the Center, and potential uses. Curators, art directors, professors and performers gave a wide variety of reasons why the ACC has the potential to be such a success.
None more so than Lee Yong Chul, the President of the institute of Asian Cultural Development (and early curator of the Gwangju Biennale), who listed: archival contents, the cross-disciplinary approach, performances, themed exhibitions, planned programs, programs for children, multi-functional Performance and Exhibition Halls, laboratories, and Sound Lab and even a Food Lab as part of a multilayered Center that is “meant to be used, so please, come here and exhibit and perform.”
None of the presenters ventured to guess how the ACC would attract visitors from outside Gwangju, or inside Gwangju, so the positive economic impact can not be estimated until it comes true. The impact for local artists, however, is slated to be larger than once thought imaginable, due to the commitment to having regular performances, and a multitude of themed exhibits.
How can the ACC serve both as a showpiece venue for all of Asia, and represent local creators? The key lies in how adaptable the building itself is.
Fram Kitiwaga, distinguished Japanese curator gave the best reason to continue to foster art:: “For 500 years the process of globalization has been led by missionaries, merchants and armies, and resulted in colonialism, imperialism and nationalism. Under such circumstances spaces become homogenized and controlled, information is made consistent, and life and labor are standardized. Under the recent crisis of global warming, the collapse of financial capitalism, dissolution of community, decline of agriculture, proliferation of inequalities and apathy in societies, we have lost the feeling of physical embodiment and sensory richness, and have become nothing more than mechanical pieces of a robot, without any face….I am seeking out connections that engage the marginalized elements of society — the outsiders, the minority voices, the dead – for this is the very essence of art.”
Brend Shere, of Berlin’s House of World Cultures also gave his advice: “Just now I changed my speech to “Changing Conceptual Approaches to Art, Which are Being Developed in Different Cultures.” “The new ways of making ideas via research and art-making are being segmented by specialist who use untranslatable jargon and become detached from society. The universal approach to academia no longer works in the entire world…so when you are launching a multi-cultural Arts Center, you should allow each country to define itself via its creativity.”
He mentioned that though in Berlin, the House of World Cultures, in 1989, just before the Berlin Wall came down, the art world was seen as First, Second and Third World, and the “museum” was focused on Africa, Asia and Latin America. “After 75 years the house was “purified” through the ‘Walls and Windows’ project so that it encompassed a larger world view, as the old world view no longer made sense. Only the architecture, a 1957 gift from the U.S., was left behind.”
Its new beginning, then, like the new ACC building (finally completed after an awfully long time mired in the politics of whether and when Joellanamdo should receive money from Seoul) is a chance to internationalize the entire cultural scene in Gwangju. Not just once a year at the Gwangju Biennale, or Design Biennale; not just via the Architectural Follies, that are continually growing, at least officially; not due the myriad star artists who live here, but must sell elsewhere to survive, but through a living, working flexible structure that invites locals to collaborate not just with living artists, but with digitally archived material as well.
If enough international collaborations in performing and visual and audio and video and animation and conceptual art take root, then the ACC truly will be attracting people from out of town. This is why it has been worth the investment of time and money: not just as an economic generator, but for a chance for blue collar and white collar to mingle under the umbrella those human beings still brave enough to defy corporate commands and strike a chord for the creativity in all of us.

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