INNOCENCE, Han Sungpil at Yeongang Gallery

INNOCENCE, Han Sungpil at Yeongang Gallery

text: Ernie Yang

Sometime between the 17th and 18th century, after the concept of national sovereignty was took hold, lines representing national borders began to spread extensively on maps.

11 1 INNOCENCE, Han Sungpil at Yeongang Gallery. Image courtesty of Han Sungpil. 

Sometime between the 17th and 18th century, after the concept of national sovereignty was took hold, lines representing national borders began to spread extensively on maps. The divisions are not only based on topography, but also benchmarks devised by man such as latitude and longitude, and even ideals, power, and war, thus ultimately documenting mankind’s willingness to hurt each other for the sake of possession. Similarly, the Korean Peninsula is marked by the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) due to the diverging beliefs and discord between two nations. While the existence of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along this artificial boundary restricts human access and development, it has unexpectedly preserved the natural environment.

Art photographer Han Sungpil ventured alone deep into the Civilian Control Zone (CCZ) more than 10 km south of the DMZ to document the natural landscape of the secluded Yeoncheon County with the purest clarity. Although the stars in the vast sky, the spectacular oceans of cloud, and beautiful views of the cliffs mesmerise the mind, the sound of gunshots at the firing range pierces the silence and brings heartbreak. Yeongang Gallery, situated within the CCZ, is showcasing Han’s photos of the breath-taking scenery of Yeoncheon County, a hidden paradise, for its inaugural exhibition titled “INNOCENCE”. The establishment also invited him to continue the Façade Project, for which he has draped canvases over the walls of the former National Intelligence Service Hall to introduce the meaningfulness of arts and humanities into the territory while eradicating the purposelessness of borders and desires. In addition, Door of Peace, a wall created by over 100 louvered doors, expresses the people’s urge to freely travel to and from both sides of the MDL amidst the helplessness they feel about being hampered by layer upon layer of barbed wire.

Han has long been concerned about the idea of nationalism and differing beliefs. He once filmed the forced removal of the statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels from Marx-Engels Forum in Berlin, Germany, due to the construction of a subway station in the documentaries Amor Fati (2010) and Workers of All Countries Unite! (2010). The films hint at how the glory of West Germany’s political and social philosophy would be disposed of by ‘labourers’ in the future. Furthermore, the artist also set up the barbed wire installation, Faction (2015), in Paju City’s CCZ, printing the film set of the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom inside Namyahgju Cinema Studio on a giant photo-printed screen to discuss, through the use of misplacement, how the governments and citizens on either side of the peninsula must work together to tackle the challenges of the future.

However, just as he is vigorously escaping the national framework and criticising the governments’ foolish desires, Han was given the ‘Honorary Soldier Award’ by the Yeoncheon County Government prior to the gallery’s opening in appreciation of his contribution to the CCZ’s tourism infrastructure. Meanwhile, Door of Peace has also been recognised for its advocacy of the Korean Unification, an outcome much desired by each and every foreign embassy. While the artist endeavours to free himself from nationalism, he is ironically bound by the shackles of the national government.



Yeongang Gallery, Korean