Multimedia Exhibit Takes Viewers to the Korean Demilitarized Zone

Danny Kim, a current student in Duke’s Masters in Experimental and Documentary Arts program, and a native Seoul-born Korean citizen who served in the military, tells us the story behind Looking North.

Looking North is a collaborative multimedia exhibition by Kim (MFA EDA ’18) and Peter Lisignoli (MFA EDA ’13) examining the landscapes of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the border of North and South Korea. The exhibit opened in the Installation Array at Smith Warehouse (Bay 11) in January and is now on view at the John Hope Franklin Center for International and Interdisciplinary Studies through March 30, 2018.

Danny Kim (MFA EDA ’18) poses in front of his photo at the exhibition opening in Smith Warehouse.

My Unique Summer 2017 Experience

When I was back home in South Korea working on my thesis film project during the summer of 2017, I met up with Duke MFA EDA alumnus Peter Lisignoli, who was in Seoul to teach a two-week summer session in world cinema history.

Peter asked me if I could take him to the border of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea to make a short film. We drove together on the hottest day of the summer and were immediately struck by the oddity of the landscape surrounding the border area. The serenity of the farmlands, the rolling hills, and the amusement park all seemed to me to be more fairy tale than reality.

While Peter was making a film, I decided to capture the surroundings using my camera. When I returned to Duke, I shared my photos with my thesis committee. My chair, Professor Tom Rankin, encouraged me to do an exhibition.

In the twelve photographs I chose for Looking North, I tried to capture the soul of the DMZ area landscapes. I was especially interested in the tourists, who were so clearly fascinated by the bordering country.

In the images I chose, I balanced those that were gray (the observatory deck and the nearby Imjin river on the border) with the more bright colors of the amusement park and ribbons tied to the barbed wire. These photos make me think of a post-apocalyptic world with no humanity.

View of the Imjin River from the observatory tower in the peace park near the DMZ border. Photo by Danny Kim.
Merry-go-around at the DMZ peace park in Imjingak. Photo by Danny Kim.
A mural near the DMZ depicts the fantasy of tourists at the border contrasted to the reality of tourists nearby where the line seems blurred. Photo by Danny Kim.

The exhibition also includes a “first-person shooter” (FPS) game I developed using for my final project in Unity 3D Programming and Interactive Design class. The game pokes fun at how using ‘K-pop’ as soft power to convert North Korean soldiers in the DMZ border into S. Korean allies.

With the recent attention on North Korea —from intense nuclear threats to the joint talks by the two Koreas ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics—my exhibition was very timely. I was excited to see the two Koreas marching under one flag and forming a joint women’s ice hockey team for the winter games.

I believe artists can help address the tensions between the two Koreas more powerfully than today’s constant media frenzy. I hope that my body of work can contribute to the peace and dialogue surrounding the two Koreas.

A recap of opening night at Smith Warehouse.