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Rob Adams at the DAI and North Korea

Imagine playing a game of Battleship with an estranged uncle. Let’s call him “Sam.”

Battleship is played on a ten by ten board, in which a player calls out “A4” or “B3” as if releasing a torpedo into that square. If the square is empty, the torpedo passes harmlessly. If the square is occupied, the torpedo hits. The process is completed until one player’s fleet is destroyed.

Imagine: You call B8, B9, B10 and a battleship is destroyed.

Keep imagining: Your opponent, Sam, calls B11, off the board, and your bedside lamp is smashed. B12, and your television is kicked in. B13, and your toilet bowl is cracked as if hit by a hammer. B14, and your pet is killed. B15, and you start worrying for your children.

Keep imagining: All you can do, in response, is call A through J, 1-10, only hitting the battleships on the board.

How do you respond? Do you beg Sam to stay on the board? And why would he?

Do you spend the next fifty years trying to develop the technology to call B14, too, so you can hit Uncle Sam, too?

Someone close to me emailed me that “I read about North Korea and it feels like one of my dystopian novels.”

I replied: I feel it too. And yet I wonder whether North Koreans have felt, for fifty years, the same anxiety we feel now. They have lived knowing that their enemies (including us — we invaded them in the 1950s), could always obliterate them from afar, anonymously.

It is our privilege to be surprised and scared when we think other nations can hurt us. Other nations have lived with that fear for decades.

This is among the thoughts that worked through my head at the Artist’s Talk at the Duluth Art Institute. Rob Adams’ “Battleship” works are both overwhelming in scale (a map of all of the great lakes, constructed from Battleship boards, with pegs marking sunken ships) and participatory — visitors can use Battleship boards to design their own art.

The talk was digressive, it was wide-ranging, investigating the ways that the sports and games (and militarism and mapping technologies) intersect with masculinity.  In that, the event was full of surprises.

But I am most grateful for the moment of play I experienced with Adams’ art, as it helped me understand the experience of the rest of the world, really, in the face of the militarism of my own culture.

5 Comments

Robert Lillegard

about 4 months ago

You think the state media in North Korea accurately portrays them as victims who should be scared of a powerful US? Rather than as a strong conquering people for whom victory is inevitable?

David Beard

about 4 months ago

I have no idea what the state media does in Korea, although I imagine there are still many people in Korea who have lived long enough to remember our invasion, to have lost family members in our invasion, and that is enough to me, regardless of the actions of media.

David Beard

about 4 months ago

OMG: During the course of the three-year war, which both sides accuse one another of provoking, the U.S. dropped 635,000 tons of explosives on North Korea, including 32,557 tons of napalm, an incendiary liquid that can clear forested areas and cause devastating burns to human skin. (In constrast, the U.S. used 503,000 tons of bombs during the entire Pacific Theater of World War Two, according to a 2009 study by the Asia-Pacific Journal.) In a 1984 interview, Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, claimed U.S. bombs "killed off 20 percent of the population" and "targeted everything that moved in North Korea." These acts, largely ignored by the U.S.' collective memory, have deeply contributed to Pyongyang's contempt for the U.S. and especially its ongoing military presence on the Korean Peninsula. "Most Americans are completely unaware that we destroyed more cities in the North then we did in Japan or Germany during World War II... Every North Korean knows about this, it's drilled into their minds. We never hear about it," historian and author Bruce Cumings told Newsweek by email Monday. http://www.newsweek.com/us-forget-korean-war-led-crisis-north-592630

Helmut Flaag

about 4 months ago

What's amazing is with that much bombing, 80 percent of their population survived. I'll bet one of those bombs cost the yearly taxes of ten average Americans. Considering 1/3 of the world population died from the plague, not even counting all the other wars dating back to the stone age, some 40 million people were killed during WWII and the Chinese Revolution- these didn't even make a dent in our overpopulated Goofball. There's just so many fucking people and people fucking- we're like Lemmings running off a cliff. You know it can't go on like this forever. Makes you wonder what day does it all end? When does all the glue sniffing and gas huffing finally catch up with us? And its not to say children aren't precious and the hope of tomorrow, yet why am I still filled with horror and sadness, shock and awe every time I drive around on a Saturday night looking pa nub in all the wrong places for a meaningful connection I've never expected to find, only to instead witness the young and the hopeless wandering every intersection lost in their phones? That the sacrifices of countless generations who came before amounts to this is why. Worse, there are US vets living in your neighborhood carrying the burdens of what they saw and did overseas decades ago their government put them up to before they were old enough to know better, so that the oblivious plebes of today can endeavor in their mindless state of Twitter bliss having a little mental orgasm every time someone likes them. Needless to say, its only a matter of time until we're all tube-fed in the Matrix, waiting for Jesus to save us.

Tim White

about 4 months ago

It should be noted that the other artist present, Christopher Selleck, spoke eloquently to the ways that sport and the military inculcate rigid (and paradoxically ambiguous) gender roles that can deform the transgressive potential of individuals -- undergirding much of the conflict around and within our selves.

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