Dokkebi Park is on Jeju Island, imagined and created by artist Lee Haekang's father. The park opened in 2005, only two years before the artist's father passed away under unexpected circumstances. The park's future became uncertain. This liminal state of the park continued until about 5-6 years ago, when the park had to close its gates completely. It is presently listed on the real estate market. Lee Haekang knew that the park had to be let go as it was a burden in many ways, but the possibility of the park being no more was a reality he struggled to come to terms. As a final homage to his father's work, Lee documented Dokkebi Park in Jeju Island to present a solo exhibition of his documentation. His presentation is hardly objective or even singularly tangible; he chose to present 17 years through compression and fragmentation.
Lee's works have explored the vague and ambiguous middle ground between dissimilar elements, as well as people and beings that do not belong in one or the other, but the third. Artist's observations and explorations of liminality have included the strictly Korean cultural concept of being born early in the year (where the Lunar calendar and the Solar calendar places a person in two separate years, confusing typical age hierarchy), villains in films and serialised shows who could have been fantastic anti-heroes or even heroes–had it not been for the dichotomous plot device. This duality of the sides of the same coin in popular culture where one side is arbitrarily better than the other has been a topic of exploration and interest for Lee. With roots in graffiti and street sub-culture but active in the contemporary art scene, Lee Haekang is also the embodiment of this in-betweenness. His works are in many ways stories of his own, told through different metaphors. He doesn't like to wear anything on his sleeves. He rarely shares anything about what situation he is in, or what his intentions lie. His works speak for him–or should I say he seems to paint as if he were a spokesperson for someone else? Whichever it may be, Lee has maintained a detached demeanor to his practice. Until now. This is his most personal story.
In 2005, after 8 years of planning, the Lee's father opened Dokkebi Park in the township of Jocheon-eup, North Jeju County, Jeju Island. As a bona fide first-generation theme-park establishment on Jeju Island, the opening of Deokkebi Park caught the attention, interest, and excitement of many. Lee Senior was a professor of industrial design at Jeju National University who had a vision for the park. He bought a plot of land over 6,000 pyeong (20,000 sqm) for the park and with a team of students, began working earnestly on Dokkebi Park. When the park was unveiled, the plot had more than 7,000 trees planted around the park, with more than 3,000 camellia trees carefully planted among them. Altogether in indoor and outdoor spaces, the park featured more than 2,300 sculptural objects. Only 8 individuals had been at work to create the sculptures, and Lee Senior himself acquired heavy machinery–excavator–operator certification in order to be maximally engaged. It was only after Lee Junior became an artist himself that he came to understand his father's dream of Dokkebi Park as his life's project.
The closed park was nearly sold several times, and through those close-calls Lee found that he had ambivalent feelings about the park. When offers came in, he felt relieved to sell yet also regretful and hoping to leave everything as-is. From that experience, Lee Haekang decided to record, document, and present Dokkebi Park through the medium of his art, to have something when the physical park itself is no longer. The first order of this decision was to return to the park. Lee was confident returning to Dokkebi Park. He had been there many times before, and it would be like the back of his hand. This was not so. There were many discoveries to be made upon his return and tour of the now closed park. For example, Kkeppo, one of the larger Dokkebis (dokkebi are nature deities or spirits possessing extraordinary powers and abilities that are used to interact with humans and are distinct from other troll-like characters in East Asian mythologies, as they tend to lean toward chaotic-neutral in their disposition) had a face with three sides. Lee did not recall this from 17 years ago, something he had overlooked as Kkeppo was quite large and he had not perceived the whole figure to understand its anatomy. The discovery was shocking, but also frustrating as none would sympathise with him–not even his own family!
D 5 - Kkesyong, D 6 - Aengdukkebi, D 9 – Kkeppo at Lee's solo exhibition are large-scale paintings based on samples of the large Dokkebi sculptures he documented during his visit. The first thing that Lee Haekang did with the documented material from the park was to create an animation that depicted the sculptures gradually fade in colour and distinctness over time, eventually reaching the state he witnessed and documented during his visit. Numerous frames in the animation were sprayed with aerosol paint to simultaneously express on a single panel. A compressed and abridged record of time, the paintings stack frames, colours, and lines over what the canister of paint has sprayed, eventually obstructing all that he had painted earlier. This carefully executed process is iterated in order to materialise a thin strata–and its accumulated cross-section of it. The matière of aerosol paints are compelling, and that was reason enough to iterate the spraying and painting-over numerous times.
The 'P' series are felt-tip markers tracing laser-cut paper forms over spray painted canvas. The protagonists of the series all have something to do, something connected and reminiscent (for the artist) of Dokkebi Park's structures and plants. The prawn-noodle instant cup noodle that he spilled at the park before hardly getting a mouthful. The Swiss Army multitool pocketknife that brought back memories of the MacGyver-esque mullet hairstyle of father and two sons, the iRiver MP3 music player that Lee used to listen to as he strolled in Dokkebi Park, the green grass that grew around the park, and so on. These were all totems that took him to a time and place in a way that felt free of artistic form and painting style. Objects were directly relevant to his personal recollections that he drew out. It brought joy. The large dokkebi figure installed outside is in fact brought from Dokkebi Park. Damaged parts were puttied and spray-painted over. What time had damaged, he returned in form and colour.
Unlike previous styles of combining aerosol paints and oil paints, Lee makes extensive use of aerosol spray paints to express the spreading of paint on canvas, and various other unique aspects of spray paint matière. Both a study in media and new directions, Lee's solo exhibition stands out as a personal memoire. He shares that working on this exhibition often brought him back to memories of his father. Lee somehow remains detached in saying that he isn't expecting this exhibition to pull any heart strings. The reason for documenting Dokkebi Park is not simply because it was his father's, but rather to capture and honour a person's lifetime project. As a creative himself, Lee Haekang documented Dokkebi Park (to be eventually lost) with dignity and gravitas, and through a medium he knows best as an artist. His family members were also calm and composed regarding this exhibition.
Press release courtesy GALLERY2.