Hyundai Motor Company and the National
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea have recently finalized a ten-year
sponsorship agreement, which includes the creation of the MMCA Hyundai Motor
Series, a program to support major projects by prominent Korean artists. The
series aims to instill the field of Korean contemporary art with fresh
attitudes and new possibilities by sponsoring artists whose works represent the
pinnacle of ambition and innovation. By offering some of Korea’s most renowned
artists the opportunity to explore a new trajectory of their work, the series
aims to elevate their creative will and thereby reinforce the foundation of
Korean art and culture.
The artist chosen for the inaugural
installment of the series is Lee Bul (b. 1964), who has firmly established
herself as one of the most important contemporary artists, not only in Korea,
but in the entire world. Since the late 1990s, Lee has been featured in
exhibitions at many of the world’s most prestigious international venues,
including the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, and the Guggenheim in New
York, the Venice Biennale, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and Mori Art
Museum in Tokyo. After beginning her career in the 1980s, Lee has earnestly
developed her artistic senses and ideas through projects that continually
question and explore contemporary art and society. For much of her career, she
has been working overseas, so the MMCA Hyundai Motor Series offers Korean
audiences the rare chance to experience her new works.
the exhibition MMCA Hyundai Motor Series
2014: LEE BUL
- Children and teens may not enter the
gallery. They may only view the work from the entrance.
- The entire gallery itself is the artwork.
Please walk slowly along the path between the mirrors.
- The edges of the mirrors may be sharp, so
please be very careful while walking along the path.
- For the safety of the viewers, only 5
people will be permitted to enter the gallery at one time.
- Approximately Every 1 hour, fog is
emitted inside the gallery. Do not be alarmed, this is a planned part of the
In the 1980s, Lee received a very
traditional education in sculpture at Hongik University in Korea. From her
earliest works, however, she has actively rebelled against the conventional
academic art that tends to dominate the Korean art field. She officially
launched her professional career in the late 1980s with a series of provocative
performances, installations, and sculptures that scathingly criticized the
social and political power structure of patriarchal culture. She hung upside
down from a rope while naked, to the accompaniment of a pop song. The work was
a powerful visualization of the pain of abortion as well as a public confession
about her own experience. The same year, in her outdoor performanc, she wore
the makeup of a shaman and a soft costume of a monster with giant tentacles,
and then ran through the fields of Jangheung. In another performance, she wore
a similar monster outfit when she wandered Gimpo Airport in Korea, Narita
Airport in Japan and the streets of downtown Tokyo for twelve days in costume,
eliciting various responses from pedestrians. These performances represented
her resistance to a number of binary oppositions: human vs. monster, reason vs.
feeling, man vs. woman, logic vs. illogic. Furthermore, they were parodies of
femininity, which has been identified with the seditious object of exclusion.
As such, she raised compelling questions about existing values and conventions.
For Lee Bul, the exhibition at MoMA in
1997 served as a kind of rite of passage for the wider world. After Majestic Splendor, she received the Hugo
Boss Prize from the Guggenheim Museum in 1998, which enabled her to create new
works focusing on cyborgs, an interest she has maintained ever since. She
produced Cyborg W1-W4, a series of
similar shapes made from white polyurethane. Cyborgs draw upon elements from
art history, science, and the popular imagination to give expression to our
fascination with, and anxieties about, the utopian promise of perfectibility
through bio- and social engineering and technology. Lee’s karaoke project, first
exhibited at the 1999 Venice Biennale – where she was awarded a prize for her
contributions to both the Korean national pavilion and the international
exhibition – expand her inquiry into the interplay between nature, culture, and
technology. The most recent phase of the artist’s development is represented by
“Mon grand récit.”
Mon Grand Récit
Lee’s Mon grand récit series, first shown in
2005, continued to explore the oppressive relationship between the human and
society and the gloomy future of science and technology. At the same time, Lee
harkened back to some of the central issues of early twentieth-century
architecture, with its pursuit of utopia through design. For On Every New Shadow, Lee’s 2007 exhibition
at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, she made to unfold
massive installation works, as if reconstituting these themes as landscapes
unto themselves. The Mon grand récit series reflects Lee’s views on
Jean-François Lyotard, who posited that the so-called “grand narrative,” or
metanarrative, was impossible in the age of post-modernism. Recognizing the
impossibility of grand narrative, Lee presented various “small narratives” that
were fragmented and imperfect, and which continuously floated around with no
resolution. Her works were designed to make viewers contemplate the traces of
corruption disclosed in history, the failure of modernist idealism, and the
specters of modernism that continue to haunt the daily life and consciousness
Civitas Solis and Aubade
Lee has now extended the themes of her Mon grand récit series in two new works created for the MMCA Hyundai Motor
Series exhibition: Civitas Solis II
and Aubade III. The overwhelming
scale of Civitas Solis II takes the
conventional concept of “installation” to a whole new level, filling the entire
exhibition space (33 m long and 7 m high) with a single work. The walls and
floor of the space are covered with mirrors, enabling viewers to experience a
seemingly infinite expansion of space with no edges or borders. The space
transcends the control of our senses and perceptions, thus conjuring an uncanny
sense of fear or dread.
The work is inspired by The City of the Sun, a classic utopian text by Tommaso Campanella, a philosopher and socialist of the Italian
Renaissance. The City of the Sun depicts a utopian city based on Campanella’s reformative
principles. Lee appropriates both the form of a city surrounded by a circular
wall and the meaning inherent to that form. Within the endless reflections of
the mirrors, the audience will find a flickering sign that reads “CIVITAS SOLIS,”
a reversed reflection of bulbs resembling huge flames that are attached to the
The expansive scale of the work goes beyond our capacity for perception,
thus conjuring a sense of fear, anxiety, and awe. With its peaceful reflected
light, the space initially seems to convey tranquility and silence. But there
is a terrifying scream hidden within that silence, in the form of fragmented
mirrors on the floor, which create fractured images above. The imperfect
movement and disjointed flow caused by the mirror fragments effectively
shatters the peace of the installation.
Another new work
presented in this exhibition is Aubade III, which develops the structure of an existing light
tower. The word “aubade” in the title refers to a song or poem about lovers
separating at dawn, a popular trope of European lyric poetry from the Middle
Ages to the sixteenth century. In an aubade, the image of dawn is typically
used as a dramatic expression of unfulfilled romantic love. Aubade III is a huge
installation that takes advantage of the 15-m high ceilings in the exhibition
space. The work is a visual reinterpretation of Bruno Taut’s Monument des
Neuen Gesetzes(1919), as well as the Hindenburg airship, the symbol of
modernity in the early twentieth century.
Periodically, the exhibition space suddenly fills
with white vapor that is emitted from inside the structure. This vapor makes it
impossible for people to see past their own nose, making it very easy for them
to lose their sense of direction in the white space. Up near the top of the
room, some dots of flickering red lights vaguely hint at some type of signpost.
But as the vapor slowly dissipates, people's vision returns, and they are
presented with an astonishing scene of a monument and an airship, shining
brilliantly in the air above. However, this sight is not only entrancing, but
also somewhat ominous, because the diagonal angle of the monument makes it look
like a projectile accelerating towards the airship. Moreover, large fragments
from the airship float through the air, as if they will never disappear, and
could fall to the ground at any time. As such, viewers are forced to reconsider
the actual meaning beneath the dazzling appearance.
Lee Bul actively questions
the narratives presented by modernist projects purportedly aimed at the freedom
and liberation of humanity through the creation of utopia. Furthermore, she
addresses the fantasy of perfection that has tantalized us throughout history.
By forcing viewers to confront our futile desire for perfection, she
unreservedly presents a naked reality that most of us would prefer to avoid.
Her works advance, both coldly and hotly, in search of the point that marks the
crossroads between life and death, ugliness and beauty, secular and sacred,
dream and existence.