The team of six co-artistic directors appointed to organize the upcoming biennale have chosen ‘ROUNDTABLE’ as a theme to explore the possibility of democratic and non-hierarchical exchange concerning global cultural production, through various forms of collective endeavour, research into historic entanglements among societies, and the exploration of diverse contexts of belonging.

In a statement, the co-artistic directors have said, ‘ROUNDTABLE’ allows us to reflect on our shared contemporaneity at a time when the tremendous momentum of ecological, political and economic change has radically transformed our global reality. This theme was derived initially from our working method of being geographically distant but brought together through different media of communication. No one sits at the head of the round table, no linear narrative drives its deliberations, and it becomes the seed-bed for the future. The image of the round table is associated with the political summit, where various urgent agendas are brought together and its participants convene to reach a renewal of understanding. It could also evoke the traditional Korean image of the round table, the duriban, around which people eat communally.

‘At the same time, ‘ROUNDTABLE’ emphasizes the apartness and distinctiveness of its participants. We bring, to this platform, the different trajectories of artistic, discursive and curatorial articulation that emerge from the various locations we occupy. We do not perform from the unvarying script of an ‘Asianness’. Instead, we enrich our interaction with the differences of positionality among us, surprising one another with our differential reserves of testimony to a fast-changing world.

‘For us, ‘ROUNDTABLE’ signifies a platform where we share our diverse agendas in order to accumulate a plurality of knowledges, to learn from and through each other’s experiences, and so to re-define our subjectivities. We would like to shape a situation enriched by the interplay of multiple scales, economies and paradigms of cultural production. ‘ROUNDTABLE’ encourages active participation from artists, collectives, critics, scholars, alternative spaces, institutions and other spectators and potential participants, not only in the city of Gwangju and Korea as an immediate context, but also around the world.

‘We propose to convene ‘ROUNDTABLE’ as a locus for various intersecting urgencies:

‘Transient Encounters: We recognise the temporary nature of the biennale format, as well as the mutable boundaries of the notions it proposes to address. Life is not about the solid stabilities suggested by historical constructs. Living requires facing continuous changes and the openness to experience the significance of chance, passing encounters. If, as Buddhism suggests ‘everything is transient’, then what is inherited, how can these legacies be changed, and what needs to constructed on its own terms?

‘Forms of Collectivity and their Critique: Neither the individual nor the collective is a self-enclosed given. Both are constructs, subject to mutation. How do we signalise those sparking points in cultural practice, where an interplay between artistic choice and civic volition could bring about a burst of critical agency? While some artists camouflage themselves as fictional collectives or use heteronyms, others distance themselves from ascribed or inherited formations; yet others subscribe or affiliate themselves to collective projects, artistic and political. The vexed and complex relationship between the individual and the collective will be examined, one which is dramatised by collisions, entanglements and a distributed form of belonging.

‘Individual Spirit in Identifying Alternative Logics and Horizons of Connectivity: The debordering and loosening of economic, sovereign, social, cultural and historic frameworks by digitization, global trade and political movements are breaking the cages of our ideological and national logics. It’s time to consider the conditions in which transformative forces inspired and motivated by individual spirit are incubated on a societal, philosophical and artistic level. We are excited to speculate about alternative orders and imaginaries of connectivity beyond the existing and dominant neoliberal economic and political discourses currently in operation by recognizing the value of individual spirit in the remaking of regional and global histories.

‘Belonging and Anonymity: Founded in 1995 in memory of spirits of civil uprising of the 1980 repression of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, the Gwangju Biennale is Asia’s oldest and most prestigious biennial of contemporary art. Modern Gwangju has mostly been constructed through definitions that tend to establish specific protagonists and  largely operates within the realm of grand narratives. We will look beyond such grand political and social narratives to reveal overlooked histories and traces of the lives of its inhabitants. Artist residencies and new art projects will be commissioned to engage with the multiple layers of the city beneath its surface.

‘Re-visiting History: “To write of depicting or representing history is to imply that history is some kind of object with identifiable boundaries that distinguish it from other objects…” (Jean Fisher) How is history used? Re-used? What is our relationship to history? How do we remember things? Why do we remember them? Is using history as an ‘object’ a way in which we define ourselves in the world today, with all the dramatic changes (earthquakes, tsunamis and civil uprisings)? Why do we go back in history to remember when and why these happened before?

‘Impact of Mobility on Space and Time: The idea of a modern-day odyssey arises from a reflection on the global phenomenon of mobility in both its spatial and temporal dimensions. We would like to invite artists to investigate this situation by reflecting on how they can go beyond geo-political borders and explore terra incognita, going back and forth between the past and the future, towards a new horizon for what Thomas Friedman calls our ‘flat’ world.”

‘ROUNDTABLE’ will consist of diverse programs throughout the project, and not be limited to the exhibition as a final outcome. Further issues and agendas will be developed as other participants join the ‘ROUNDTABLE’ through programs such as Workstations, E-journals, Residencies and New Commissions, and allied activities conducted via the 9th Gwangju Biennale website and other social networking media. These programs will be devised as platforms to communicate with other art professionals and the general public throughout the production process of the 9th Gwangju Biennale.

The artistic direction of the 9th Gwangju Biennale is headed by a team of six internationally renowned curators from Korea, China, Japan, India, Indonesia, and Qatar. Nancy Adajania is a Bombay-based cultural theorist and independent curator; she is also research scholar-in-residence at BAK, Utrecht. Wassan Al-Khudhairi is the Director and Chief curator at Mathaf : Arab Museum of Art, Doha, Qatar. Mami Kataoka is a curator and writer and the Chief Curator of the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. Sunjung Kim is a Seoul-based independent curator and professor at the Korea National University of Arts. Carol Yinghua Lu is an art critic and curator who lives and worksin Beijing. She is a contributing editor for Frieze. Alia Swastika isa curator, project manager, and writer based in Jakarta ; she curated Jogia Biennale  XI (2011).