“Battlelands” Looks at Trauma from a First-Person Perspective

The film premiere at Mia uses veterans’ body-cam footage to immersive, empathetic effect

A still from Battlelands, by Meiro Koizumi

Footage by Meiro Koizumi

Trauma has a loose definition—a recurrence of distress so subjective, invisible to those who don’t feel it, that some have even publicly debated the legitimacy of the upsetting psychological response.

That’s why it makes such an interesting topic for Japanese video artist Meiro Koizumi. In Battlelands, premiering at the Minneapolis Institute of Art on Saturday, January 26, trauma isn’t the subject, per se. Koizumi outfits seven veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with body cameras, to capture the first-person minutiae of their everyday lives. We watch as they stroll through dusky public parks and bob through bedrooms and kitchens, recounting disturbing experiences from their time in the military. The setup reminds us of police body-cam footage, but instead of indicting the wearer, these clips facilitate our empathy.

Still from Battlelands, by Meiro Koizumi

“The effect is immersive and unrelenting, giving the viewer no choice but to put themselves in the veteran’s shoes,” Mia curator Gabriel Ritter said in a press release. “As such, Koizumi’s film powerfully recasts the stereotypical image of the heroic soldier often found in popular culture into an infinitely more disarming, vulnerable portrait of a civilian living with past horrors.”

As one veteran, standing on a pier, gestures toward a placid body of water, he traces over it by describing a scene from war, when he feared for his comrades’ lives. Added to this version of the film, Koizumi’s examination of Fourth of July fireworks renders further how trauma lurks behind what we might describe as scenic, relaxing, or joyous.

This marks the first time Koizumi has worked with U.S. subjects. The 58-minute installation will be on view until April 28.

January 26-April 28
Minneapolis Institute of Art
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis