Could you please describe the driving thought behind the biennial you are involved in?
The ideas behind this year’s Seoul Mediacity Biennale began with something that I have been interested in for a while… the power of popular media, and what we can learn from it, the strategies employed, to extend visual arts’ reach and to have a greater impact or to be more direct and relevant? The concept of escapism came much later, in the sense that I thought it would be a very nice way to tie things together. And slowly I think escapism has become a catalyst, a means by which we can confront the troubled realities we live in today. But, of course, with the current ongoing global health crisis, the idea of escapism has taken on an altogether unexpected meaning, and it is something I would like to try to unpack. Ultimately, I have known from quite early on that I might not be able to have all the answers, but it’s important I try to look for them together with all the people involved in the project.
Could you please discuss the following shifts: politicization and depoliticization, de- and re-centering of the West, the art-theory interface, and mediation strategies.
I’m probably going to sound very old-fashioned, or naïve, or radical here, depending on your standpoint. I think when it comes to any discussion related to the ideas of (de)politicization or (de/re)centering of the West, we often forget that whatever we produce or put forth, it’s going to be a kind of human expression. So, in a sense, I hope we can actually all move beyond just focusing on the political or geographical origins of the makers, and instead try to evaluate them on a more equal playing field. These expressions can be political, or they can be coming from a Western viewpoint or elsewhere, but what’s crucial is that we as curators and exhibition-makers are able to weave them into narratives that’re relevant and important on a human level—regardless of culture.
Which curatorial formats are necessary to propose a space of radical democracy?
It’s clear that there have been many discussions in various outlets, forums, and spaces about how our societies are going to be changed after the pandemic. And these conversations go beyond the idea of reforming democracy. I am not sure how much we are actually going to change, and whether we will change for the better… there are already signs that big corporations will once again be the big winners in this. But I think rather than thinking merely within the confines of the curatorial, it’s perhaps better if we could try to get involved in these conversations elsewhere, spaces that are more open, more public, and arguably more democratic.
How do formats reflect/interrelate content (in your biennial)?
Like many contemporary art projects, the upcoming edition of the Seoul Mediacity Biennale will have two large components, namely the exhibition and the public programmes. I suppose this is a very conventional format, but the idea for the ‘programme’ is that it will evoke and, to a certain extent, mimic the logic of a distribution network within the popular media landscape. We hope, as much as we can under the current circumstance, to involve as many ‘public’ spaces—such as media walls, shops, cafes, Seoul-based independent spaces—as possible to display works or versions of works in the exhibition ‘off-site.’ So, we will essentially ‘distribute’ them repeatedly throughout the city, ideally just like how media contents are being ‘streamed’ nowadays everywhere simultaneously. We are also in the midst of reorganizing the content to make the programme even more local-facing. In the likely absence of an international audience, could this be an opportunity to truly implement and emphasize the idea of locality within the biennial framework? It would be very remiss in stopping short to rethink the meaning of staging a so-called international art event in our new, and forced, de-globalized period.
Yung Ma is currently the Artistic Director for the Seoul Mediacity Biennale 2020, which opens at SeMA (Seoul Museum of Art) in September this year. Formerly Curator of the Contemporary Art and Prospective Department at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and Associate Curator of Moving Image at M+ in Hong Kong, Ma was also twice co-curator of the Hong Kong Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2009 and 2013).