In a first, the Sea Art Festival in Busan has an Indian artistic director

The Sea Art Festival team – a unique exhibition held every two years on the beaches of Busan in South Korea – would like to believe that their places are rhizomatic because they describe different facets of marine ecologies and histories. As part of the sixth edition, which will take place from October 16 to November 14, 2021, the works do not only occupy Ilgwang beach, but also the inhabited spaces of shrines, abandoned buildings, shop windows of cafes and restaurants, fishermen’s huts, riverside ones, and more. As the sun sets, a soundscape project plays over the public speakers, allowing the gurgles of the imaginary deep sea to mingle with the electronic sounds of the beaches. At night, moving images are projected onto tall buildings and the sands of the beach.

“These entanglements of water, light, urban communities and artistic interventions demonstrate the interconnections between them,” reads the curator’s note. It is these unique encounters that were envisioned by the artistic director of the sixth edition, Ritika Biswas, who is the first foreign and female artistic director – and also the youngest at 26 years old – since the beginning of the Sea Art Festival in 1987 in as a cultural event before the Seoul Olympics.

Biswas, originally from Kolkata, obtained her PhD in Film and Film Studies from the University of Cambridge and until recently was the Curator of the New Art Exchange in the UK. The current edition of the Sea Art Festival, titled Non- / Human Assemblages, celebrates flux, precariousness and the unknown, retracing the “liquid flows that flow through all human and non-human bodies that entangle us in a complex assemblage of friction, resonance, and kinship ”.

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The Sea Art Festival 2021 presents specific projects at 22 sites of local and international artists such as Rohini Devasher, the Raqs Media Collective, Shezad Dawood and the winner of the Turner Prize 2019, Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Some of the themes that inform these works include time travel on the high seas, the geopolitics of interspecies activism, oceanic cyberpunk creatures, ancestral spirits of Gijang village, and more. It is this interaction with the spectral seascape that makes this festival so appealing to Biswas.

“My intellectual, critical and spiritual energies are aligned with the festival. In fact, in my thesis at Cambridge, the most important chapter was on water, ”says Biswas, who shuttles between India, the UK and Korea.

The pandemic has brought out the importance of outdoor spaces like never before, and the sixth edition of the festival celebrates just that. This year’s artwork moves away from the usual modes of public installation by incorporating video projection, digital media, textiles, prints, texts and photography to create versatile portals throughout the venue.

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“We have interior spaces to house two to three textile and textual works. But this year we’re looking at different types of sites beyond the beach. These spaces accumulate more importance beyond just being pretty postcard decorations ”, explains Biswas.

Previously, beach sites were different, bigger, surrounded by hyper-capitalist spaces. Ilgwang, on the other hand, is a quieter, more traditional space. It allows for more than just massive installations, which had to be done in the past in response to larger beaches.

“People have come to expect these massive installations. But when you give people what they expect, their eyes go glassy and they don’t really look. When they see the unexpected, people are more open to engage in it, ”she says.

The process of organizing the festival began when Biswas had intense conversations with each artist. But because her visa was delayed – she only got it in July – her sense of space was built on research rather than the look and feel of the site. “Once there, the site took on a life of its own,” she says. During this time, the artists researched human and non-human ecologies.

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One of the remarkable works of the festival is Greenhouse depth by Rohini Devasher, who lives and practices in Delhi. She created a large projection of diatoms, or submicroscopic ocean algae from the East Sea, on Ilgwang Beach. The interplay of creatures, which look almost like jewels in Devasher’s work, creates awareness of those ecologies that are generally beyond human perception.

“These submicroscopic algae represent 25 percent of the world’s ocean oxygen. As they face peril, we are facing a huge ecological crisis and yet they remain invisible to human eyes, ”says Biswas. She put Devasher in touch with marine scientists in Busan, who sent her electron microscope images of diatoms from the East Sea near Ilgwang Beach. Greenhouse depth is the result of this scientific and cultural commitment.

The other Indian work – a multimedia screen and rocking installation – is from the Raqs Media Collective, which was influenced by the pandemic in India. Title O2, it has a spectrographic LED video of a scuba diver. Oxygen accumulates around the figure, becomes denser in different colors, then disperses suddenly. “At the end of the pier, you can see a swing, carrying an oxygen cylinder. It rolls back and forth, eventually causing a bewildering clicking noise as it falls. It refers to that mad rush for oxygen in India during the second wave, ”says Biswas.

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Then there is a large-scale installation of flags by the global nomadic art platform, Forest Curriculum. Title A traveling bestiary, it presents “assemblages of non / human agencies across Zomia, an area of ​​wooded regions at altitudes above 300 m connecting various regions of Asia, the homes of indigenous and nomadic communities, spirits, groups fugitives and guerrillas and other entities that reside in these political ‘non-states’, ”the curator’s note said.

The Sea Art Festival will be held from October 16 to November 14, 2021 at Ilgwang Beach, Busan, South Korea.

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Reggie S. Williams

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