“Living in Evolution”

Busan Biennale
Busan Museum of Art, Busan Yacht Center, Gwangalli Beach, Busan Cultural Center, Exhibition Hall at Busan City Hall, an Geumryeonsan gallery.
September 9, 2010–November 20, 2010

Yishay Garbasz, Bergen Belsen 2005, color photograph, 19 x 24”. From the series “In My Mother’s Footsteps,” 2003–2009.

Modeled around the notion of “Living in Evolution,” the latest iteration of the Busan Biennale, directed by Takashi Azumaya, features a range of art exploring themes of biological development, circulatory systems, and genetic fusions. While many works are wrought of organic materials such as hair, blood, or rock, others mimic evolutionary paradigms in their processional forms or cyclical movements.

Walking into the Busan Museum, the biennale’s central location, viewers are greeted by Alastair Mackie’s sculpture of a chimpanzee perched on the roof. Upstairs, the main gallery presents Zadok Ben David’s Evolution and Theory, 1995–98, a sprawling installation of hand-cut aluminum silhouettes of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon men striding through a landscape of calipers and Victorian-era mechanical contraptions. Nearby, Kohei Nawa’s PixCell Saturation #3, 2004, a case of bubbling white liquid mimics primordial goo. If these curatorial choices seem a bit heavy-handed, no less didactic is an “infinity” section featuring Akira Kanayama’s galaxy paintings emblazoned with with the words BIG BANG and Dzine’s Buddha mounted on Infinity brand speakers.

Although there are ample illustrations of the evolutionary thematic, with several works also visually invoking the Victorian heyday of Darwinism, almost none seem to implicate the racism and anti-Semitism to which evolutionary and eugenic theory were harnessed. One exception is Yishay Garbasz’s “In My Mother’s Footsteps,” 2003–2009, a haunting series of photographs that trace the artist’s recent journey through the concentration camps of Europe and the forests where they once stood. Text culled from an account written by the artist’s mother supplement the taut images with the factual details of her survival, yet the narrative remained a history of gaps and absences. Somewhat at odds with the rest of the biennale, these spectral sites of death point to the hideous telos of evolutionary theory.

— Leora Maltz-Leca