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  • 2021 Gwangju

    Between the Seen and the Spoken

    From houses to offices and public spaces, the on-going pandemic has redefined the borders shaping the realms in which we live or through which we pass. During the process of battling COVID-19, hospitals became the most symbolic and critical sites of this ‘new normal’ era. At a moment when our radically transformed day-to-day lives provoke new questions about the way democracy operates, this exhibition revisits the abandoned and obsolete site of the Former Armed Forces’ Gwangju Hospital with the work of twelve artists either born or based in Gwangju.

    Established in 1964, the Former Armed Force’s Gwangju Hospital is where students and civilians who were tortured during the 1980 May 18 Democratization Movement were treated. Despite its designated status as one of the historic May 18 memorial sites, it has been left in ruins since the hospital relocated to Hampyeong in 2007. Temporarily overtaking the building’s empty spaces on the ground floor, the artists give shape to what we can see, or to what we could see if we did not turn a blind eye. Moreover, they give voices to the things we can speak about, or to the things we could articulate but kept silent. Highlighting the residual textures of the site, where traces of history and memory, pain and recovery, violence and resistance overlap, each artist responds to the context on his/her own terms. In this exhibition, we therefore encounter the May 18 Democratization Movement not as an irrevocable event of the past, but as a ‘potential history’ from today’s standpoint. *

    The hospital was detached from the everyday life of Gwangju due to its status as a military facility, and the site was erased from people’s memories. In 2018, only with the introduction of the GB Commission project, did the hospital temporarily gain its status as an exhibition space. Although this exhibition Between the Seen and the Spoken takes part in reviving the hospital, albeit briefly, the space is ultimately planned to transform into a national trauma centre. Giving a nod to what may be the last opportunity for the artists to engage with the site in its current state, the exhibition brings contrasting perspectives of the curators and artists into a dialogue.

    Gwangju achieved Democracy in May 1980 through people’s sacrifice and resistance. Although the issue of safeguarding the truth of May 18 remains as the task of this era, the concrete historical evidence and facts about the movement are already in our hands. However, has the Movement’s drive towards democracy really come to a stop somewhere between 1980 and 2021? If the movement arose in opposition to Korea’s military authoritarianism in the past, it emerged in the form of candlelight movements and collectivization of new socio-political groups in recent years. Moreover, the May of Gwangju asserted a significant influence on the nation’s social issues and cultural fields. The exhibition Between the Seen and the Spoken thus traces art’s historical emergence and transformation within this context.

    What would the May of Gwangju and its forty years of history like to say to us today? What remains in the minds of those who have been left behind? What kinds of messages should we pass onto the next generation? Remembrance is not a duty imposed on someone out of responsibility. Our histories and memories are part of what constitutes our lives and beings. No piece of writing or artwork can fathom this fact in its entirety. So how could we – and those from the past – pass on the messages to the generation coming after us? We must begin by tracing and sharing the meanings generated in our day-to-day lives.

    * Ariella Azoulay, The Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (London: Verso, 2019).

    Title Between the Seen and the Spoken
    Commissioner Sunjung Kim
    Co-curator Lee Sun, Sooyoung Leam
    Exhibition Dates 2021. 4. 1. – 5. 9.
    Opening Hours 14:00 – 18:00
    (Booking required)
    Closed every Monday and national holidays
    Admission Fee Free admission
    Venue Former Armed Forces’ Gwangju Hospital
    Gwangju Seo-gu Sangmudae-ro 1028