The Second Iteration: Uncovering the agency of the unknown armistice maps

The Second Iteration: Uncovering the agency of the unknown armistice maps in the "(im)positions - multimodal negotiations of place-identity" exhibition curated by Kelum Palipane at the Dulux Gallery, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne. (April 24 - May 9, 2017)

Work description
Lieutenant General William K. Harrison Jr., representing the United Nations Command (UNC) on the one hand, and General Nam Il representing the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army, on the other hand, met each other near the 38th parallel line, at Panmunjom. Here, the Armistice Agreement was signed between the parties to cease the Korean War (1950-1953) on July 27, 1953.

The nine 1:50,000 scaled maps—Map 1-1 to 1-9—included in the "Armistice Agreement - Volume II – Maps", “attached” to the "Armistice Agreement - Volume I – Text of the Agreement" were the first visual representation of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Fast-forward 64 years; this imaginary “line on a map” was transformed into an infamous physical reality that bisects the Korean peninsula to this day.

Representation of the existing landscape and how the imagined demarcation lines are inscribed over a territory were instrumental in how the Korean division’s imaginaries were concretized into this tangible space. This exhibition work explores how nation-states’ constructed imaginaries are translated into physical realities through different modes of representations. It is an interrogative extension of my ongoing research on the spatial implications of nation-states across scales.

This exhibition work builds on top of a previous exhibition work “Uncovering the Agency of Unknown Armistice Maps: The First Iteration” (Berlin, 2015) and a journal article on this work “The First Iteration: Uncovering The Agency of Unknown Armistice Maps” (Site Magazine, 2016). While the first iteration focused on introducing the hard-to-access Armistice maps to the public, this second iteration explores the spatial relationship between the imagined and constructed. Nine armistice maps (Map 1-1 to 1-9) from 1953 are juxtaposed to the 2015 ‘Google Earth’ satellite images of the same location with the armistice maps overlaid on top of them. These set of maps and images illustrate how cartographic language acts as a medium in transforming nation-state imaginaries into physical space. Further, it attempts to visualize some of the overlooked and muted sensorial aspects of the Demilitarized Zone through overlaid texts and other visual cues.

This second iteration also engages animation as a medium to amplify the notions of change over time and auditory senses. This active deconstruction and reconstruction of the first iteration critique the agency and limitation of abstract cartographic representation. These deconstructed armistice maps and the moving images engage auditory markers from the DMZ to evoke emotions from the audiences. Layered on top of the deconstructed and reconstructed ‘armistice’ maps, the second iteration combines visual maps with other senses, such as sound, that evokes newly synthesized emotions, memories and experiences. This visual and sensual conflation attempts to provoke new nation-state imaginaries that destabilize audiences’ habitual understanding of the contested Demilitarized Zone.