The exhibition, Matjaž Tančič : 3DPRK: Portraits from North Korea, at Brooklyn’s Happy Lucky No. 1 gallery, comes at a serendipitous moment in global politics and offers a much needed antidote to the theatrical posturing of today’s world leaders. In his artist statement, Tančič notes, “Portrayals of North Korea tend to veer into extremes: either sensationalistic demonization on one side, or ungrounded idealization and staging on the other. Both portrayals erase the actual human beings who live there.”
Tančič was invited to North Korea to conduct a photographic project by the Koryo Studio, which works on cultural exchanges. During their shooting, the team was accompanied by two guides, a producer and a driver. Their access was restricted to designated areas, resulting in a series of environmental portraits shot in front of curious onlookers that all share a sense formalness and rigidity with an added twist in the use of 3dimensional technology.
In order to shoot in 3D, Tančič required all of his subjects to remain still so that he could take two photographs, captured at 6.4cm apart (the average dimensional space the human eye sees). Three dimensional glasses are available at the gallery and offer a unique viewing experience of the photographs. An unusual depth can be experienced the further one walks away from a photograph. When moving left to right or right to left, a variety of details and angles appear in the image. The longer one looks at the images, the more there is to see, such as small breast pins on the lapels and dresses of individuals that appear to have images of North Korean leaders like, regime founder Kim ll-sung, his son Kin Jong-il or its current leader Kim Jong-un.
In 1945, after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, North Korea and South Korea were divided by the United States and the Soviet Union into two zones, one capitalist and one socialist, respectively. North Korea, subsequently, has become a very closed state allowing limited access to outsiders. In 2017, the dystopic thriller book, The Accusation, was released as a group of short stories believed to be the first piece of fiction published abroad by someone still living in North Korea. The book, smuggled out and written under an alias, takes a critical and unfavorable look at North Korea through imaginative stories. In contrast, Tančič’s images offer another type of fiction, one that attempts to capture the humanity of ordinary people, despite his highly monitored access to them during his stay in North Korea.
Tančič says, “Among the more than 100 portraits captured while traveling around the county, there is a boxing champion learning to ice skate, an art student painting in the forest, a worker in an iconic steel complex and an international worker with the Red Cross. They’re the people whom the world ignores because they neither fit into the domestic propaganda of a mighty and triumphant North Korea, nor into the international image of a country that can only be either castigated for its crimes or mocked for its poverty. Leaving this dichotomy entirely, all I seek to do is present the actual people I met in North Korea.”
Matjaž Tančič : 3DPRK: Portraits from North Korea is on view through May 14, 2017.