The Most Beautiful Moment of War (2014/2017) and
The War of the Stars (2018)
On 14, 15 and 16 August, the Museo Moderno will present a film experience made by Adrián Villar Rojas in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea (the DMZ), a frontier where the artist has been working on an ‘eternal’ project since 2014. He produced two films, which give us a whole picture and generate a single experience, are available in Argentina – and several other parts of the world – through the Museo’s YouTube channel.
The Most Beautiful Moment of War (El momento más hermoso de la guerra) and The War of the Stars (La guerra de las estrellas) are of equal length: 55’31’’. They were filmed four years apart from one another in the same place: the town of Yangji-ri next to the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea: the former utterly isolated from the western world and its media, very different from its hyper-connected sister country. A geopolitical frontier crossed only by sound broadcast through loudspeakers, as if it were a transtemporal tennis match in which communist propaganda and K-pop bounce back and forth.
The first film, made by Villar Rojas in 2014, portrays the community of Yangji-ri, mostly farmers over 80 years old who fought in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. The final credits – which play over a map of the new DMZ – name every member of the community and were effectively the first census in the history of a town that had been under strict military control until 2012. With them, Villar Rojas indulges in an estranged lyrical sensibility in which their everyday lives are disrupted by sculptures, presences and minor intrusions from the world of fiction that arose while the artist and his collaborators (strangers unfamiliar with local ways) lived in the town. More a theatre of the real than a classic documentary or clearly organized fiction, the artwork captures the emotional memory of a people through real characters that occupy a specific place and time but that seem slightly disconnected from the present.
In 2018, Villar Rojas returned to Yangji-ri to show the film to its inhabitants and also to make a second film in which two fictional characters show the 2014 artwork to the community on different devices (smartphones, laptops, televisions). The artist also added another twist playing with both time and the spectator dynamic: within the fiction of the second film (which includes the first) we see it being shown in the future – or in a parallel dimension – to a community of mutants locked up in a beautiful vintage cinema/theatre. Today, the cinema is a historic relic in the city of Gwangju that still preserves the character and energy of a century of Korean history beginning with the 35 year Japanese occupation – for example the seats reserved for Imperial Japanese censors – on through the dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan (supported by the USA during the Cold War) to the revolutionary spirit of the popular uprising of 1980 (which ended in a genocide but was the first step in the return to democracy which finally occurred 7 years later). Villar Rojas’ mutants are watching the film of the Yangii-ri community watching the film of themselves and thus sharing a role with the real audience in a labyrinthine tangle of observations and sound. The mutants are creatures destined to forever watch other creatures watching themselves on screens, making the piece a reflection that takes on new meaning in our own pandemic-enforced isolation.
At its first screening at the 2018 Gwangju Biennial, both films, which are identical lengths, were shown on two walls of an enormous gymnasium. The sounds bounced from one end to the other replicating the battle of loudspeakers between the two Koreas in the demilitarized zone. The fact that said equipment was taken down that same year also made the films historical testimony to a sonic battle that is no longer being waged. Depending on how the sound was synchronized, it was possible to hear them in harmony or intruding upon one another in a programmed manner while viewers moved back and forth through the space to watch both films. The editing, cuts and post-production of The War of the Stars was intended to interact with the soundtrack of The Most Beautiful Moment of War so as to recreate the sound experience of the DMZ in the installation. Villar Rojas was thus using sound to recreate the physical impact of the invisible tension of a disputed frontier, and to perceive that with one’s entire body.
As part of the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires’ virtual programme, in August 2020, the curatorial team will explore different ways in which to address the activities included in our ‘Community’ section and offer, in association with Rei Cine and Villar Rojas and his team, the opportunity to open another ripple in time for a new group of spectators to experience both films. Isolated in front of their screens at home because of the quarantine but with the freedom to experiment with different time and sound formats for both films, spectators can choose between watching first one film and then the other, watching them simultaneously on a computer and a smartphone, seeing what happens when two computers are placed back to back or show one in the living room and the other in the kitchen. The Most Beautiful Moment of War and The War of the Stars take on new power at a time when the traditional ways in which we perceive history and the future are in flux. This artistic experience invites us to rethink the idea of community under the necessity of social distancing and isolation and to address the problem of frontiers, which currently affect every aspect of our lives: the frontier between humans and animals, public and private, real and virtual, the state and the global community. The films tell the story of a place on the globe where memory is estranged. That memory now contains a fiction of the world that expands through projections, within projections and within projections of projections.