The Perpetual Moment—Visions from within Okinawa and Korea

October 17–December 13, 2004

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center presents a group exhibition composed of photographs of United States military bases that have been in existence since 1945 in territories of third-party nation states—Okinawa (designated as a part of Japanese territory) and on the Korean Peninsula (where the Korean nation is still divided)—and the reality that surrounds them. Questioning whether photography's role of documenting facts persuades a viewer to truthfully consider the complex history that precedes the reality depicted in a photograph, the exhibition explores the difference between the decisive moment for photography and that of history. The Perpetual Moment—Visions from within Okinawa and Korea also places documentary photography into the context of contemporary art, which devises ingenious ways to reveal the reality of our time and the truth of the here and now.

Because the raison d'etre of documentary photography is rooted in fact, the practitioner's motive and motif are irreversible. Until recently many of the photographs published through the mass media machine—images which to a large extent are inseparable from a societal memory of the 20th century—were taken by professionals who were removed from the places and people they depicted. In contrast, the "concerned" or "conscientious" photographers in this exhibition captured their own place and history from within, revealing through an insider's perspective how one decisive moment persists over time.

These photographers document the present situation around the bases; through these images the viewer is able to see the causality of history at work—implicitly and irrevocably. Historically, the decisive moments were when the Allied Forces landed in Okinawa for a final lethal attack that killed 150,000 people, including non-combatant civilians; and when, in September of the same year, U.S. forces arrived on the Korean Peninsula through Inchon Harbor to liberate the Koreans from a 36-year-long Japanese colonial rule. Two of the many Koreans gathered to welcome the Americans were shot to death and ten were injured by Japanese policemen, apparently ordered by the U.S. military, which set the stage for continued tension on the Korean Peninsula.

American military bases have remained in the Okinawa Archipelago and the Korean Peninsula for almost 60 years now, creating complicated harmful effects on the lives of the locals and the environment. The citizens of these occupied areas have been living on the periphery of war for more than half a century, witnessing the persisting perpetual moment of history. These photographers, revealing the lives and suffering, as well as the joy and relief, of the local sovereign people, are aware that the causality that was triggered in 1945 persists as a socio-political reality.

  • Noh Soon Taek
    The Korean ultrarightist group demanding the U.S. military to stay (2003)
    Black-and-white photograph
    47 ¼ × 71 15/16 in.

  • Lee Yong Nam


The Perpetual Moment—Visions from within Okinawa and Korea is organized by P.S.1 Adjunct Curator Kazue Kobata.

Support for this exhibition provided by "Friends of The Perpetual Moment—Visions from within Okinawa and Korea" (Okinawa, Osaka, Tokyo, Seoul, Paju, Daegu, Pyeongtaek, and New York).