“Early Arrival of Future imagines the time of future, while Green Screen visits the past and present as a materialised utopia contemplating exterior space. The two times are superimposed at CIRCA and together construct a non-linear time and space.” – Sojung Jun
For CIRCA’s August 2021 commission, Seoul-based artist Sojung Jun transfigures space and time to awaken a dreamlike vision of Korea as a re-united ecotopia. Curated this month by Josef O’Connor in collaboration with the Seoul Museum of Art, Jun’s two films demonstrate the potential for public art to overcome ideological and political conflicts with artistic imagination.
Appearing online and presented daily across a global network of screens in London, Tokyo and Seoul, this exhibition explores the tensions inherent in the act of translating history, culture and time with the interwoven presentation of two major works: Green Screen (2021) casting light on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas ‘with pervading senses of frustration and anticipation’ either side of Early Arrival of Future (2015), a landmark ten-minute musical performance between South and North Korean pianists, which will be presented only once at the midpoint of the month, 16 August, in its full entirety. Jun, the 18th laureate of the Hermès Foundation Missulsang, a biannual prize for Korea’s most promising artists, explains:
“These two works question the senses that the experience of division and boundaries bring to life. At the same time, they cross the axis of time and continue to recalibrate the present in relation to the past. This CIRCA project hopes to reflect on the scenes of conflict that lies beyond the division of the two Koreas and, therefore, encourage recollection of the sense of coexistence and solidarity.”
Filmed along the border of the Korean DMZ over the last month, Green Screen considers the potential of a human – vacated or intermediate landscape. Jun assembled a vivid, multi-perspectival picture of the DMZ, a 155-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide strip of land that has been virtually untouched by humans for more than six decades, after gaining access in June 2021 to the adjacent Civilian Control Area guarded by the South Korean army.
A symbol of suffering and division, the DMZ became an unintentional wildlife sanctuary when the two Koreas withdrew following the armistice at the conclusion of the Korean War of 1950-53. In recent years, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has begun working with UNESCO to list the DMZ as a World Heritage Site. Drawing inspiration from ‘Mongyudowondo’ a 15th Century painting based on a Korean Prince’s dream of a journey into a land of peach blossom trees, Green Screen focuses on ‘the site’s potential as a gap or a twilight zone while giving due attention to the power of nature.’
Schedule everyday throughout August:
20:21 BST on London’s Piccadilly Lights
20:21 KST on Seoul’s Coex K-POP Square
09:00 JST on Tokyo’s Yunika Vision, Shinjuku
20:21 BST on www.circa.art
*Early Arrival of Future will begin at 20:15 KST on 16 August in Seoul, Coex K-POP Square
From Agent Orange to intoxicating green
By Dr Cleo Roberts-Komireddi
August 1st, 2021
A verdant stretch of land separates the Korean Peninsula into North and South. It is four times the size of the Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and with immense wetlands and significant mountains it is one of the world’s largest conservation areas on a par with the Amazon rainforest. It has the simultaneous accolade of being the world’s most fortified border. The expansive strip is bound in barbed wire, lined with thousands of troops and laden with unexploded landmines. This is the buffer, known as the Demilitarized Zone and the Civilian Control Zone, between North and South Korea. Instituted following a ceasefire in 1953, it has lain unpeopled for over six decades.
What has been carved into the landscape to separate these nation states also connects them. While the zone provides human security, it also provides ecology security. For this land, empty of people, has become a safe habitat for near to 2000 species of wildlife, including endangered and protected species. It contributes to regulating flooding and erosion. In sum, it is an unintentionally rich ‘living laboratory’.1 Sojung Jun’s new film, ‘Green Screen’, 2021, takes us here to her ecotopia. The radiant mirage interrupts London’s, Tokyo’s and Seoul’s architectural density. And an ostensibly lush paradise exposes itself to the many buzzing about these urban centres.2
The blazing green habitat is, in ways, connected to London and Japan as it is to Korea. If we think of ‘weather-worlds’, a phrase coined by anthropologist Tim Ingold, we are immersed in a shared atmosphere. Life is lived in atmospheric conditions. ‘Within the animic cosmos’, Ingold explains, ‘the sky is not a surface, real or imaginary, but a medium’.3 And it is integrated with earth through the lives of its inhabitants. This is not the most groundbreaking of propositions. To regard nature and humans as dichotomous was, traditionally, a misnomer in East Asia. ‘Humans were’, as Kim You-Joong notes, ‘understood to be part of nature within the general order and harmony of the cosmos’.4 To read a sijo, a three-line poetry genre of the Joseon period, is to learn about human life embedded in nature. To look at a handscroll made by An Gyeon, a notable artist of the early Joseon period, is to appreciate the admiration for nature. Mongyudowondo (Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land), 1447, is a journey through jagged mountains. Read from left to right, they rise, fall and open out into soft pools of water and banks of trees. Rendered in three-point perspective this geography slips from reality into dream recounting its commissioner’s, Prince Grandgun Anpyeong, utopic vision of a stroll into a peach orchard.
Jun’s work syncronises with this regal fantasy. ‘The painting proposes to me an allegory of history and the present…and an attitude that allows me to look at a single landscape or time in multi dimensions’.5 From an elevated viewpoint, ‘Green Screen’ moves through a landscape. The staggeringly verdurous panorama fizzles and crackles with digital dots. It’s pocked red and infected with acid green patches. This deterioration is Jun’s slide between a real and dreamlike state. And in these stutters and glitches lie a self-consciousness of the electricity and data networks, what Lewis Mumford described as the ‘invisible city’,6 it takes to enable the film’s circulation.
These digital jolts might also be a subtle clue and allusion to the contextual depth of the Jun’s film. An Gyeon’s referential handscroll itself is subject of a feud between Korea and its ‘owner’ Japan. Speaking to the countries historic animosities, Mongyudowondo is a Japanese treasure said to be loot during the Imjin War (1592-98). It resides in the collection of Tenri University Library and although a pervasive part of the Korea’s visual repertoire, the original has rarely been seen. Its mystique is such that the painting is personified and in 2009, on a rare occasion it was loaned, Mongyudowondo was said to have ‘visited’ Korea. Crowds came to see the masterpiece that has become emblematic of Korea’s sophisticated heritage.
Equally embedded in Jun’s arcadia is the history of man-made tragedy that made this hermetic environment obligatory. The consequences of human conflict have been the conditions for an extravagantly bio-diverse culture that has stimulated a campaign for its conservation as a ‘peace park’. Jun reads this ‘twilight zone’ for not just its ecological hospitality but ‘ the countless moments of hostility and hospitality attempted between the two Koreas’.7 Early Arrival of Future, 2015, might seem to make big the promise of hospitality. On a concert hall stage, under the glare of spotlights and in the crosshairs of multiple cameras, an intense piano duet is performed. The pianos almost kiss each other. One of the players is a North Korean defector. The other is from South Korea. The music is their joint composition, the result of a protracted collaborative process engineered by Jun. In the melodies merge folk and children’s songs from each side of the border. And while the players are united in sound and space there are hesitations. Pointed looks are thrown across the soundboards. And this parabolic vision, like her gestures in ‘Green Screen’, skews and blips.
In both the film’s quiet disturbances, through the visual glitches and musical jars, Jun replicates Korea’s trajectories of clash and consensus. Accentuated by being blown up for street scale, she conjures visual sequences that project the potential for peace with the acknowledgement of the patience and pain it will take to get there.
1 Kim, Kwi-Gon. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Korea: Protection, Conservation and Restoration of a Unique Ecosystem. (Germany: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2013) p.xvi
2 People passing Piccadilly Lights belong to the consumer classification groups: ‘City Sophisticates’, ‘Lavish Lifestyles’ and ‘Career Climbers’ according to Ocean who manage the site
3 Ingold, Tim. Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. (United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis, 2011) p74
4 Kim, You-Joong. Restoring Eastern Thought: The Eco-poetry of Kim Ji-ha and Choi Seung-Ho in Korean Literature Now, Volume 29, Autumn 2015
5 Email interview with the artist 24/07/2021
6 Mumford, Lewis. The City in History. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1961)
7 Email interview with the artist 23/7/21
Dr Cleo Roberts-Komireddi writes and speaks on contemporary South and Southeast Asian art. She has written for leading publications across the world, including The Guardian, the Spectator, Times Literary Supplement, Frieze, ArtReviewAsia and ArtAsiaPacific. She’s contributed to books published by Phaidon and Thames & Hudson and has lectured at Sotheby’s Institute, Princeton University, University of Cambridge, Royal Asiatic Society.