The 58th Venice Biennale, May You Live In Interesting Times (11 May–24 November 2019), certainly benefitted from low expectations, given the lacklustre curatorial of the previous edition, when different segments of the show were conceptually framed with titles like 'Pavilion of Joys and Fears' and 'Pavilion of Colours'. Add to this the...
Hong Kong-based artist Zheng Bo's social, ecological, and community-engaged art practice has, in recent years, focused on moving beyond a human-centred perspective to an all-inclusive, multi-species approach. He takes up marginalised plants and communities of people as subjects in his large-scale interventions, which reintroduce wildness into...
The weather was clement for the annual Auckland Art Fair (2–5 May 2019), which was again at The Cloud on Queens Wharf. This year's edition was a get-together of 41 galleries, mostly from around Auckland and across New Zealand, with 5 spaces hailing from Sydney and the rest from Cook Islands (Bergman Gallery), Hobart (Michael Bugelli Gallery),...
Exhibition view: Lee Bul: Crashing, Hayward Gallery, London (30 May–19 August 2018). Courtesy Elephant. Photo: Linda Nylind.
The sci-fi imagination of Lee Bul literally lit up the Hayward Gallery last night, as one of the artist’s works set on fire just an hour before the private view was scheduled to occur. It was an appropriate moment for the exhibition, as the works look as though they have smashed into the gallery from another cosmos.
Provocative and inventive, Lee Bul (이불) is one of the leading Korean artists of her generation. Though she has worked in performance, sculpture, painting, installation and video, she is most known for her monstrous sculptures, cyborgs and utopian landscapes. Born to dissident parents during the military dictatorship of Park Chung-Hee in South Korea, Lee emerged in the 1990s through works that channelled the emotional impact of political persecution and restrictive gender roles into visual form. Since then, the artist has investigated human desires for perfection and stability and the implications of technology in the contemporary world.
After completing her studies at Hongik University in 1987, Lee embarked on her career as a performance artist on the streets of Korea and Japan. Donning soft wearable sculptures that were described as 'simultaneously alluring and grotesque' by Ikon Gallery, she addressed the themes of political instability and gender roles in a then—and still—very conservative and male-dominated Korean society. In Cravings (1989), Lee transformed herself into a monstrous creature, whose tentacles and externalised internal organs alluded to the anxieties of the artist and her fellow citizens living under conditions fraught with government censorship and civil unrest. The performance later developed into 'Monster' (1998–2011), a series where the wearable sculptures evolved into freestanding statues. Abortion, also performed in 1989, showed the artist hanging upside down from the ceiling and generated controversy for Lee's bold critique of Korean traditions regarding women's bodies and sexuality. Around this time, Lee also participated in the founding of Museum, an underground collective of avant-garde artists, performers and musicians in Seoul whose members are still influential in Korea today.
Lee's work from the 1990s explores the human body in its relation to beauty, life, death and technology. Majestic Splendor (1997)—an installation created for The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York—consisted of a decaying fish adorned with sequins, beads and flowers in a glass display case. Although the exhibition closed prematurely due to its smell, curator Harald Szeemann invited Lee to recreate it in the Lyon Biennale that same year. In a powerful visualisation of the metamorphosis from the beautiful to the sickening, Lee highlighted the inevitable cycle of life and death.
Her iconic 'Cyborg' (1997–2011) series, on the other hand, examines the human desire for the perfect body. Cyborg Red and Cyborg Blue, both completed in 1997 as a pair, show silicon casts of female figures based on Greco-Roman statues with machine-like body parts. Because Lee's cyborgs often appear as females, they have been regarded as a critique of the social expectation for women to have idealised bodies. However, the artist has shown that her concerns extend to mankind at large in her karaoke installations, including Gravity Greater than Velocity (1999) and Live Forever (2002). Safely tucked in the empty karaoke capsules and pods, the human body is reduced to its sensory functions—technology may be alluring, but humankind has reason to be alarmed about its advancements.
In the new millennium, Lee shifted away from the body to human desires for utopia. 'Mon grand récit', an ongoing series since 2005, features futuristic ruins and landscapes comprised of small-scale railways, LED signs and architectural structures. Perched on skeletal frameworks, Lee's landscapes are a fragile mass that could collapse in a matter of seconds—as unrealised hopes often do in utopias. Lee has also begun to incorporate reflective materials in her architectural installations, most notably in After Bruno Taut (Devotion to Drift) (2013)—a floating palace of crystal beads, chains and mirrors. Inspired by the futuristic ideals and works of Bruno Taut, a 20th-century German architect and the creator of the Glass Pavilion, Lee uses reflectivity to allude to utopian ideals as well as a means to think about military Korea, now several decades in the past.
Lee has regularly exhibited internationally at venues such as Art Sonje Center, Seoul (2012); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012); Domus Artium 2002, Salamanca (2007); Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2004); the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2002); and Musée d'Art Contemporain, Marseille (2002). Her work is also part of many public collections. These include Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; 4Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and Yu-un, Obayashi Collection, Tokyo. She has had works included in the Biennale of Sydney (2016), Gwangju Biennale (2014), Taipei Biennial (2006–7) and Venice Biennale (1999). Today, the artist lives and works in Seoul, Korea.
LONDON — A cluster of snails are glued, like barnacles on a ship, to a disused metal post, which stands in a field of dry grass, a shabby apartment block looming in the background. In the photograph, Snails (2009) by French artist Kader Attia, the molluscs are not a culinary delicacy served on a platter with garlic butter, but a symbol of the...
Her current show features work by three artists: Yuji Agematsu, Charles Harlan, and Nari Ward. The theme of 'everyday objects'—ranging from carefully salvaged dross to mundane materials—loosely binds the selection.
The ten paintings in McArthur Binion's show (all 2017 or 2018) were from a series called 'Hand:Work.' In one sense, the title is literal: a photographic image of the artist's hand recurs throughout the paintings, serving as a building block and a serial motif.
In 2009, when Kader Attia visited Picasso and the Masters at Paris's Grand Palais, he was surprised to find that the show included works by Caravaggio, El Greco and Cézanne, yet made no mention of the African art that inspired Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (1907). His response was to dig out a mask he'd found in a Dakar market and cover it with mirror...
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