Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho on their Frieze Project
Why a strange settlement in the no man’s land between North and South Korea has found a new home at Frieze
The South Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho are better known for making sci-fi style videos and installations; their 2015 show, The Ways of Folding Space & Flying, at the Korean Pavilion in Venice won over crowds at that year's Biennale. However, for this year’s Frieze Project, the pair have chosen a subject very much rooted in our present predicament. The artists have prepared a new body of work, based on their artistic research on the small farming community of the village of Taesung, the so-called Freedom Village in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
In this interview ahead of this week's fair, they explain why this otherwise anonymous south-east Asian settlement should cause us to reflect on the wider power structures that govern our world.
Could you describe your project? The Freedom Village was formed immediately following the Korean War, and continues to exist in concealment, despite changes with time, within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Korea.
From the outside, Freedom Village appears exotic and unrealistic, yet it is a place that clearly exists in the present. We, through the Freedom Village, aim to shed light on the unrealistic incidents and circumstances extant in various aspects of our lives as well as various places across the world that we are unaware of or tend to overlook.
This goes beyond merely spotlighting the special circumstance of the Korean peninsula – its division. The project seeks to reflect upon the ideologies established by humanity, political conflicts, and moreover the contradictions in powerful structures.
What is the Freedom Village like? Its landscape is similar to that which you would often come across in the suburbs of Korea. However, what is different is that the Village is a part of a military zone, and therefore it is comparatively antiquated because the residents are not allowed to arbitrarily renovate houses, roads, and other facilities. And unfortunately, ordinary people are restricted from visiting the Village. It is difficult to define beauty, but we find the Village beautiful in the sense that it is a symbol of the imperfect world and imperfect lives.
How as the project changed over the past few months, as the rhetoric around North Korea has grown more hostile? We do not know about change, but we can say that it has certainly become clearer. Over the course of the project, the relationship between the two Koreas became ever more sensitive and hostile within the context of global politics. This was not just a situation that emerged from within but rather resulting from conflict between neighbouring countries and political ideals and relationships. As mentioned earlier, our project aims to go beyond exploring the Freedom Village in Korea and therefore to confront the contradictions and conflicts in the world. In other words, the increased hostility between the two Koreas evidences increased hostility in the world.
What is it like presenting this work at an art fair? It’s a very international setting, and, in some senses, borderless, isn’t it? Art fairs showcase diverse forms of art. Of course, they are stages for the purpose of selling work, they are also an opportunity to examine the contemporary art scene and its discourses. It is our hope that the Freedom Village Project will help create other opportunities for discourse and communication on globally shared issues.
For more on Korean culture north of the border order a copy of Made in North Korea; for more on for more on Frieze get this book.