Comprised of audio interviews recorded in Seoul with anonymous, resettled North Korean refugees, as well as footage shot within North Korea, Maija Blåfield’s THE FANTASTIC focuses on each interview subject’s encounters with smuggled foreign movies in their home country. The interviewees reflect on what these movies meant to them, how they were acquired, what kind of ›outside‹ worlds they constructed, and what was discerned as ›fantasy‹ versus ›reality‹ in these worlds. Blåfield’s images depict borderlands and liminal spaces in North Korea: skylines, forests, fences, bridges, and street scenes. There is a distance to the images; they feel pulled back, secretive and stealthy. They present an outward gaze from a vantage point seldom found outside North Korea: a fleeting glimpse back across tense borders.
One interviewee’s account is heard over footage of a skyline. »I thought the films were plausible. For instance, if I saw a movie about space, I thought it could be possible. Things have developed quite a bit.« Lights begin to flicker in the buildings seen in the shot. The interviewee continues: »There was also a film, in which all the people were taken to space, and they started a new world.« Suddenly, a pyramid-shaped high-rise building in the background ignites like a rocket and is launched skyward. A VHS tracking effect applied to the footage blinks on and off, like twinkling stars in the sky. The interviewee contemplates: »Sometimes I think that... I’d like to go to space too.«
Darko Suvin has argued that the central function of science fiction is »cognitive estrangement«. Sherryl Vint illustrates Suvin’s theory as one »allowing us to not only recognize the world of the story but also to see it as strange, prompting creative understanding and critical reflection about the difference between the textʼs world and our own«. The theory introduces the concept of a »novum« which produces this effect, a »catalyst« that illuminates the differences between the fictional world depicted and the recipient’s lived reality.* In the context of the aforementioned interviewee’s account, the described movie’s novum is the sustained ability to live off world, to find and exist on a new one. Beyond textually, the smuggled movie itself can be seen as a type of novum, an object that can make reality strange. The interviewee seems to identify with the narrative of leaving one world, presumably to exist on another. (Erik Martinson)
*Sherryl Vint, Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014) p.38—39
Supported by AVEK, Kone Foundation, VISEK, TAIKE, Finnish Cultural Foundation
Images: Maija Blåfield, The Fantastic, 2020 © Maja Blåfield