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[Herald Interview] Two Korea’s Demilitarized Zone unfolds at Google Arts & Culture

By Park Yuna

Published : Feb. 22, 2023 - 09:41

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A virtual tour of A virtual tour of "Yongneup, a Paradise for Wetland Plants" (Google Arts & Culture's Korea's Demilitarized Zone)

Soon after regaining its sovereignty following 35 years of Japanese colonial rule, Korea was faced with yet another tragedy – a war between the two Koreas in 1950.

The war, which broke out as North Korea invaded the South, came to a halt with the Armistice Agreement signed on July 27, 1953. The cease-fire included a 238-kilometer-long military demarcation line with a 2-kilometer-wide buffer zone on each side along the entire length, known as the Demilitarized Zone.

The DMZ remains intact, practically untouched by humans for the past 70 years. It has naturally become home to numerous species of plants and animals, with its well-preserved nature. In remembrance of the history of the DMZ, Google Arts & Culture sheds light on the beautiful yet mysterious land, providing a view of its nature, narratives of its history and introducing art inspired by the DMZ.

Simon Rein, senior program manager of Google Arts & Culture, speaks during an interview with a group of reporters on Tuesday in Seoul. (Google Arts & Culture) Simon Rein, senior program manager of Google Arts & Culture, speaks during an interview with a group of reporters on Tuesday in Seoul. (Google Arts & Culture)

“The purpose of our team is to make art and culture more accessible online and that includes history. The DMZ and the Korean War were a very important part of Korean history. It felt natural as a topic when we thought about 'What projects could we do in Korea?'” said Simon Rein, senior program manager of Google Arts & Culture, during an interview on Tuesday at Google Korea in Gangnam, southern Seoul.

The project was unveiled to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the cease-fire. It shows 60 online exhibitions presenting some 5,000 images and documents on the DMZ in partnership with nine Korean institutions, including the War Memorial of Korea and the National Institute of Ecology.

Google brought together the documents and collections from the participating institutions onto its platform that consists of three sections: history, nature and art.

“We make the resources that the partners provided accessible to everyone in a way that is easy to find and easy to digest,” Rein said.

The project includes a 360-degree exploration of four spots in the DMZ, some of which were unveiled for the first time to the public, inviting people to explore the space. Yongneup, the only high moor in South Korea in the DMZ border area, can be toured virtually.

The South Korean government gave the Google team access to the DMZ. “I am very happy and grateful for the collaboration with government and cultural institutions in Korea,” Rein said.

The Demilitarized Zone has been an artistic inspiration to many artists in the country. Kim Sun-jung, artistic director of the Real DMZ Project, has led the art project for the past 10 years. The virtual tour of the Real DMZ Project is part of Google’s DMZ project and was filmed with Google’s Art Camera that features ultrahigh resolution.

As the world gradually recovers from the pandemic, people are returning to museums, and Rein said the digital and physical experiences do not compete, but supplement each other.

“The pandemic was a very special time and we are happy that we could make a small contribution in keeping culture open during this time,” he said.

Another project, “Lee Ungno: The Artist Who Never Stopped,” was presented in 2020 in collaboration with the Lee Ungno Museum, a museum dedicated to the late artist Lee Ung-no. The online show includes an immersive experience of the artist’s works that embrace the cultures of Korea and the West.

“Through working on this project, I got introduced to his art, and I still go back from time to time just to find his masterpieces there. I think it’s beautiful. We would love to work with more Korean institutions,” he said. "If there are more institutions willing to work with us, we are very happy to do so."

Since its launch in 2011, Google Arts & Culture has built partnerships with more than 3,000 institutions around the world.

Previous projects with Korean institutions included the National Museum of Korea in 2018, Jeju Island in 2014, Korean Heritage in 2018 and Lee Ung-no’s art in 2020.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)