Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s–1990s, a major retrospective at Singapore's National Gallery (14 June–15 September 2019), opens emphatically in flames. At the exhibition's entrance, viewers encounter a wall-sized image from 1964 titled Burning Canvases Floating on the River. The photograph captures a performance by Lee Seung-taek, in which...
When the London-born artist Thomas J Price graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Chelsea College of Arts in 2004, the school's college art prize was by no means his most notable accomplishment as an emerging artist. In 2001, Price presented his much-talked-about work Licked, a daring performance, later profiled on the BBC 4 television...
Without punctuation, She Said Why Me, the title of May Fung's 1989 video presents itself as a statement, rather than a question. It suggests a subject who expects no response, a person prepared to make what she can from being chosen though perplexed by the attention. The video follows a blindfolded woman, then unmasked, through late colonial-era...
Inside one of Carriageworks' vast railway workshops, a group of women painstakingly shift sand like archaeologists searching for ancient artefacts.
But their treasure is not buried beneath the ground. Instead, they pour coloured sand into jagged shapes across the concrete floor to form artist Lee Mingwei's Guernica in Sand, a large-scale version of one of Picasso's greatest paintings.
"I will be creating the last part of the sand installation while the audience, one at a time, walks on it," he says.
Lee is one of the artists featured in this year's Biennale of Sydney, the 20th edition of the contemporary art festival that takes over Cockatoo Island, Carriageworks and the city's major galleries from March 18. The New York-based Taiwanese artist says he was attempting to create the perfect circle while blindfolded when he came up with the idea for the work, which explores ideas of impermanence.
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.
The work of artist Lee Mingwei (李明維) is informed by the legacy of relational aesthetics. He is best known for his participatory installations based around everyday scenarios. Sometimes these installations involve direct and intimate contact with the artist himself in activities such as eating together, walking together or talking together. In such work he fosters a sense of trust, intimacy and self-awareness between the viewer and the gallery attendant (or artist), transforming the interaction between gallery-goer and art into a human moment between two people.
Lee is perhaps best known for Sonic Blossom (2013-present). For this work, first exhibited at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, a singer meanders through the gallery, eventually approaching a visitor and asking, 'May I give you a gift?'. Upon the visitor's acceptance of this request, the gallery performer sings to the visitor one of five lieder by Franz Schubert. The action sometimes led to very emotional exchanges. In an interview with Ocula Magazine in 2015, Lee said of the process, 'the receiver might start tearing up, sometimes it has affected the singer so much that they couldn't' finish the song.' In works such as this, Lee utilises generosity as a method of provoking intimacy within a white cube environment typically absent of such feelings.
The framework Lee devises for his projects often stems from his personal experiences. Before the Twin Towers fell, Lee's partner worked in the north tower. For five hours after the buildings were attacked, Lee thought his partner was dead. Lee went home and pulled out all their clothing that needed to be repaired and started mending items. This was the inspiration for The Mending Project (2009). In The Mending Project, a gallery docent or the artist himself sits at a table in the gallery. The visitor brings a piece of clothing and sits on the other side of the table. The helper mends the clothing in a colour of the visitor's choice. The clothes are left attached to the spools of thread they were mended with and remain in the gallery until the end of the exhibition. As the clothes accumulate, the visitor becomes aware of the presence of a shared humanity between themselves and the other visitors—material existences and relationships that are built and repaired through time.
Lee's works do not only act generously toward the visitor, they also invite the visitor to be generous. In The Moving Garden (2009)—First created for La Biennale de Lyon—Lee provides colourful and fresh flowers and invites visitors to take a flower on two conditions: that they take a detour from their intended route away from the museum, and that they give it to a stranger who they felt would benefit from an unexpected act of kindness. Lee told Ocula Magazine, '...when you give something to a stranger it's seemingly a very easy gesture, but actually it's hard and full of different nuances.' In works such as The Mending Project, Lee challenges himself and the gallery docents to these acts of generosity, while in The Moving Garden, the challenge is put to the audience members themselves.
Lee received his MFA from Yale University in 1997. He lives and works between Paris and New York.
Chiharu Shiota's installations make the ineffable space between feeling and language material. Motivated by the omnipotence of memory, a signature medium of the Japanese artist's multi-disciplinary practice is yarn. In a conversation with Ocula Magazine in 2016, Shiota said of her use of yarn, 'It is soft and I use it like a mirror of my feelings... Yarn has tension like a human relationship.' As such Shiota confronts her own experiences by cultivating special spaces with a physical and emotional passage in mind.
Shiota's early studies at Kyoto Seika University, Japan were accompanied by a semester exchange to the Canberra School of Art, Australian National University, Australia, where her aims shifted towards amalgamating painting, performance and the body. No longer satisfied with art for art's sake, the next step for Shiota after Kyoto was Germany and an intense period of study under artist Marina Abramović, known for her performance practice that tests physical and emotional thresholds. Shiota's time with Abramović seeded clarity in her practice in both concept and approach, now prioritising the relationship between memory and objects as well as the power of absence. Her newfound ethos was apparent in her performance, Try and Go Home (1997), where she dug a cavity in the earth and rolled naked into and out of the space. Here, her interest in displacement and the affectivity of positive and negative space was born. In her conversation with Ocula Magazine, Shiota said, 'I think art is primarily about the eye. It is important to see art, and then have feelings, and then see meaning. Not come up with the meaning first.' Now settled in Berlin, more recent installations by Shiota are characterised by a mixture of performance, sculpture and drawing in space with found objects mostly woven into yarn-webs. From a collection of mismatched shoes to suitcases, dresses, keys, pages from a book, bed frames and doors, the materials she introduces have lived elsewhere but are summoned as an artery for a personal and collective psychological experience.
When Shiota suspends mementos in tessellating string, the viewer is led to think about both containment and protection. The Key in the Hand, presented at the 2015 Venice Biennale in the Japan Pavilion, carried this sentiment. In The Key in the Hand, plumes of red yarn were dotted with keys. These inverted waves floated above a series of boats like hands. While line and materiality are obvious keynotes in her work, colour is critical. It's not difficult to imagine that Shiota's continued use of red is emblematic of a journey, the movement of blood through our veins or the 'fated path' red string represents in Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures. Red couples positivity and pathos. For example, in a red yarn installation Dialogue From DNA (2004) we are attune to both loss and the inevitability of change.
Shiota exclusively selects red, black or white yarn for the pregnant and hollowed spaces she creates. The metaphor is not didactic, her audience is invited to associate meaning or feeling with colour. Black has historically accompanied works exploring illness and death, such as Conscious Sleep (2016), for the 20th Biennale of Sydney, whereas snow-like threads swathe boats with a hopeful energy in Where are we going? (2017) and Memory of the Ocean (2017), both displayed at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, Paris. Prior to working almost exclusively with red, Shiota's use of black yarn and symbolic objects pointed to the inexplicability of the universe and pain. Works such as Memory of Skin (2000) saw inordinately long dresses hung high and constantly dripping with water. These dresses were a metaphor for cyclical thoughts. Installations that incorporated empty beds, such as During Sleep (2000), heralded a similar feeling. In these symbolic objects, thoughtfully framed by colour, the viewer finds cues to birth, sickness and death.
Shiota's life experiences—of leaving her country and facing illness as a young woman—are woven into her practice, which, in its grace, welcomes others to co-exist.
The Biennale of Sydney is a non-profit organisation that presents Australia’s largest and most exciting contemporary visual arts festival. Held every two years, the Biennale is a three-month exhibition, with an accompanying program of artist talks, performances, forums, guided tours, family days and other special events.
Initiated by Founding Governor Franco Belgiorno-Nettis and supported by Founding Patrons Transfield Holdings, the first Biennale of Sydney was held in 1973 as part of the opening celebrations of the Sydney Opera House. The Biennale of Sydney was also the first biennale to be established in the Asia-Pacific region and, alongside the Venice and São Paulo biennales and documenta, is one of the longest running exhibitions of its kind.
Since its inception in 1973, the Biennale of Sydney has provided an international platform for innovative contemporary art, showcasing the work of nearly 1600 artists from over 100 countries.
Today it ranks as one of the leading international festivals of contemporary art in the world and continues to be recognised for showcasing the freshest and most provocative art from Australia and around the world.
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