Look but Don’t Touch: Two Exhibitions to See in Seoul

Photographer Jung Yeondoo reconstructs the DMZ as a form of theatre; the Seoul Mediacity Biennale focuses on the theme of escapism

Jung Yeondoo, DMZ Theater–Dora Theater, 2021, c-print, 60 × 46 cm. Courtesy the artist

DMZ Theatre is a project by photographer Jung Yeondoo and director Surya based on the 13 observatories located along the nonspace of the Korean demilitarised zone. On show at the MMCA Seoul (until 3 October), Jung’s photographs reconstruct the sites as a form of theatre and stage, in which the only actors on view are the audience that stares out north across apparently innocent – and empty – green fields and trees. Alongside that are a series of installations and performances that are deployed to tell the history, folktales, personal accounts and myths relating to each site and people’s experience of them. A way of filling what appears to be an empty space. Which of course might be seen as a more holistic view of the scars of Korea’s division than any purely physical view might provide. Although, as the work points out, the land in the DMZ has become a haven for plant- and wildlife since humans kicked themselves out. The lesson here? Look but don’t touch.

Kim Min, Yes We Cam (detail), 2012–16, photography and printed documents, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist

Fittingly – you might think, in the wake of all that – the 11th Seoul Mediacity Biennale (originally scheduled for 2020) is focused on the theme of escapism. Titled One Escape at a Time (until 21 November) and directed by former Pompidou Centre and M+ curator Yung Ma, it attempts to cast escapism as a positive rather than a negative force. A force that can be deployed to explore alternative realities, uncover hidden or buried histories and confront issues of power and prejudice in society today. A critical mechanism, rather than a delinquent flight. The genuinely intriguing lineup of artists includes Bani Abidi, Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, DIS, Eisa Jocson, Liu Chang, Tala Madani, Paul Pfeiffer and Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries, among many others.

From the Autumn 2021 issue of ArtReview Asia

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