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White Papers

on Dissent

Asian Cultural Centre

Gwangju, South Korea

White papers were, traditionally, legislative documents presenting policies, actions and methodologies often inviting public comment. Nowadays, they are ever-present in the digital realm acting as introductory and promotional documents explaining the process behind a new computer technique or service. In the same way, White Papers on Dissent exposes the workings and actions of digital forms of activism and its imprint in contemporary art practices to reveal new digital political imaginaries and modes of collectivity.

This research-exhibition explores the convulsive recent History of South Korea through protest movements and civil actions. Inevitably, this means to mention  the three candlelight protest: in 2002, 2008 and 2016-2017. However, the exhibition takes as a starting point 1997, not only because of the economic crisis hit East Asia, but because it coincides with one of the first examples of digital activism: the general strike of 1996-1997. It paralysed the country and was arranged thanks to a very effective campaign of digital activism, organised via fax and email. 

These movements were led by a technologically savvy young generation of activists, who appropriated digital technologies as their means of persuasion, mobilisation and organisation. This unchained a profound sense of community based on a kin-production via online mesh working, which overcame the digital divide to procure some of most relevant social movements in recent History. Borrowing the term from digital technologies, meshworks function as local network topology where the infrastructure nodes connect directly, dynamically and non-hierarchically to self-organize and self- configure. Likewise, these digital structure was embedded in the everyday of the dissent networks as a way to raise awareness and coordinate their actions. In this way, the unceasing online participation brought endurance to the movement onsite. By these means, they have managed to wake thousands of people from their lethargic political disaffection into a leaderless movement — translating in empowerment their dispossession through a newfound sense of community. White Papers on Dissent, therefore, takes their rebellious sensibility in the unconforming ways of using digital technologies as a unique genre of political and cultural activism that trigger grassroots groups of resistance both online and onsite.

Unavoidably, digital activism has permeated the contemporary art and design practices in the region, sparking off a distinct form of artistic practices, which epitomise meshworking and uphold resistance. These practices challenge the preconceived ideas of collective, moving away from representation or identity politics. Their works expands out of the boundaries of the art institution to engage with different communities, whether present or disembodied, by means of peer-to-peer collaboration, and online participation. In this way, these artworks set off paths towards new political and economic pursuits: denouncing and resisting the status- quo, and activating novel forms of being together.

Through archive material and art projects, this exhibition aims at unveiling the reciprocal relations between art and digital activism in contemporary East Asia. In this way, White Papers on Dissent explores a new language that speaks of protest, and denotes the creative power of a new generation that has enabled an understanding of politics and poetics anew.

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