We visited the REAL DMZ PROJECT 2014 on September 17th, the very last day of the tour. This is the first official “research” trip of my Fulbright grant year (research is in quotation marks because I embarked on this trip as much as a tourist as researcher) and perhaps because of that, this trip has really remained on my mind.

In particular, this trip has really made me question the tenuous relationships among war, peace, and security. This was also my first visit to the DMZ and the bordering towns and tourist sites along the way.

One of our first visit locations was the town of Yangji-ri, in which several art exhibitions were displayed in the village. I was particularly struck by the usage of communal gathering spaces as art exhibitions.

Florian Hecker, Reformulation, 2014, three-channel electroacoustic sound, loudspeaker system, dimensions variable, 23min 7 sec. Photo taken by the author.

This artwork consisted of a soundscape by Florian Hecker, which played jarring and distorted noises, which reverberated around the space. The space is a bunker, used for the villagers, in cause of an attack by North Korea. It was then converted into a communal gathering spot and gym, although all of the equipment had been moved out of the space to make room for the exhibition. I wonder if the villagers had consented to the takeover of their space that is now full of tourists?

Throughout the tour, I was made aware and uneasy by the sense of lack of belonging that I have to the space yet also realizing that the spaces that we visited themselves consist of elements that don’t belong. What to make of the space of the nuclear bunker in a farming village? What to make of the Civilian Control Zone (CCZ) that allows farmers to move in and out of militarized security spaces because the land still needs to be tended to? How do militarized borders conflict with farming borders?

Looking out into North Korea from Soi Mountain. Photo taken by the author.
Jae Eun Choi, No Borders Exist in Nature, 2014, neon and sound installation, dimensions variable. Photo taken by author.

From the exhibition booklet, the accompanying poem to Jae Eun Choi’s work inside of the Woljeong-ri Station:

No Borders Exist in Nature
The Panmunjeom borderline is made of thin concrete./Now cracked and ruined, it no longer resembles a border./Yellow dandelions stick their heads out through the cracks./Ants are busy, crossing the border, back and forth.
The dandelions mock the border/And the sorrowful division and the social mechanisms created by human society.
The ants know./Just how many beings of this universe are looking at the same stars,/And how many different times exist.
The craves flying over Woljeong-ri Station are gazing./At the last abandoned trains lying there like beasts./And the 1,120,000mines left in the barbed fences.

More thoughts to follow the REAL DMZ PROJECT 2014 in a future post…

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