11th Gwangju Biennale
2. 9. – 6. 11. 2016



Eyal Weizman

In front of the Gwangju train Station, site of the first armed confrontation of the May 18 Uprising in 1980, a series of concentric black circles painted in the style of traffic lights spills over to the pavement. They traverse the green space in the middle of the boulevard and conflict with the utilitarian geometry of the traffic crossing. Upon closer inspection, names appear: Ramallah, Gwangju, Cairo, Manama, Tunis, Damascus and Tehran. These circles mark the exact orbits of various roundabouts in the cities where protests erupted in fast succession. At the center, on a traffic island, sits a pavilion with rotating doors, and inside, a film studio is arranged around a large round table. Two rotating cameras in the middle of the table allow for a collective process of filmmaking: participants turn the cameras as the conversation evolves, each both filming and being filmed. Roundabout Revolutions is a research project by Eyal Weizman (b. 1970, Haifa/London) instantiated in design form in a collaboration with architect Samaneh Moafi as part of Gwangju Folly II, a program of architectural commissions in public space curated by Nikolaus Hirsch in 2013. It is now incorporated into gb11 as a way of reactivating an already existing public art project in the city, and inquiring about the undercurrents of commissioned works and their local relevance within the transitory format of an art biennale. The project originated from a photograph of a large crowd occupying a roundabout in the city center, taken at a crucial moment of the Gwangju Uprising. As Weizman states, the organization of bodies in this image demonstrates the revolutionary function of “a geometric order that exposed the crowd to itself, helping a political collective in becoming.” The image also invokes the sequence of roundabout revolutions that stormed Middle Eastern countries from 2009 to 2011, each inspired by its predecessor and, in turn, helping to propel the next. Roundabouts function as loaded signifiers: utilitarian instruments for the management of traffic, which usually hold monuments that represent the order of the ruling regimes as their centers. Protesting bodies that rush to take hold of roundabouts thus put pressure upon acute points: blocking routes, putting the entire city under siege, and turning the symbolic center of the islands into an inverted Panopticon. Rereading the history of the roundabout through the protests that occupy them, the project asks: “how did an urban apparatus put in the service of authoritarian power become the locus of its undoing.” Today, the tide of revolts that characterized the Arab Spring seem to have come to an ebb, while repressive forces dominate throughout the world. In the face of such counter-revolution, Weizman proposes that the immanent power of the people needs to move from roundabouts to roundtables “spaces of reflection for ongoing political movements that aim to enact political change.” His reflections are elaborated in The Roundabout Revolutions, published by Sternberg Press in 2015.


Eyal Weizman is an architect, researcher, and writer. He is the founder of Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London.