The Eighth Climate (What Does Art Do?)

Gwangju Biennale, South Korea, 2 September – 6 November 2016

In light of the art sphere’s focus on infrastructure in many parts of the world, in the treacherous terrains of existing public and private systems, art itself seems to be partly forgotten. At GB11, attention is directed to artworks and projects addressing the agency of art in terms of the question, “what does art do?” A central part of this interest in the performative aspect of art is its projective and imaginative qualities—art’s active relationship to the future. Other concerns of GB11 include the mediation of art: art’s embeddedness in various contexts and the potential of connecting dots between already existing activities and people near and far.

The “eighth climate” of the exhibition’s title refers to a state one might reach using imaginative capacities. The notion of the eighth climate dates back to 12th century Persian mystic and philosopher Sohravardi, and was elaborated by 20th century French philosopher Henri Corbin. It is an addition to the seven physical climates of the earth identified by ancient Greek geographers. Unlike the seven earthly climates, the eighth climate is not based on a separation of matter and spirit, history and myth; rather, it is ontologically real and has concrete effects. The eighth climate might well resonate with global warming. However, in the context of GB11, the eighth climate helps us explore art’s capacity to say and do something about the future, without either being paralyzed by its prospects or defaulting to established technologies of prediction. The eighth climate evokes art as a seismograph, detecting change before other means of observation, whether the artists are conscious of it or not, allowing for slightly different—and perhaps ambiguous and conflictual perspectives on how art engages with what lies ahead of us. This neither implies art for art’s sake nor a utilitarian approach.

While placing art center stage, GB11 is a constellation of various parts taking place throughout 2016. GB11 comprises Monthly Gatherings, the ongoing Infra-School, a group of national and international Biennale Fellows, the Forum, two publications and an exhibition which stretches from the Gwangju Biennale building to other venues and places in the city. In Katie Paterson’s (b. 1981, Glasgow/Berlin) Candle (from Earth into a Black Hole), a white candle designed after an analysis of the universe’s molecules is presented. The candle is made up of 23 layers, containing different scents, corresponding to the molecular data from stars, planets, and outer space. It represents 23 perfumes: for example, the smell of geraniums for the stratosphere, sulphuric acid for Venus, and petrol for old stars. Burning down for 12 hours, it navigates the journey starting on Earth through the sky and solar system, out of our universe, all the way to a black hole.

“Beginning like a wave and rippling out quietly”—this is the way that Paterson describes her own artistic practice. Collaborating with scientists, astronomers, and geologists, Paterson investigates the long-term and large-scale cosmic and natural processes. Astoundingly close and distant, the natural environment and its connection to human activity are at the core of her inquiry. Using contemporary technology, such as advanced telescopes, nano-analysis, Internet applications, and radio signals, she developed a unique vision on the processes happening around us, but yet not visible for a human eye. Paterson is switching the scale of her work from that of the immense space of the cosmos to being unseen by the eye, at the size of the tiniest grain of sand. In one of her projects Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky, a meteorite has been cast, melted, and then re-cast back into a new version of itself, and a small part of it was sent back to outer space. In another one, Inside this desert lies the tiniest grain of sand, a grain of sand collected from the Sahara Desert was chiseled to 0.00005 mm and buried deep into the vast of sand again.