Lee Bul (1964, Korea) is widely viewed as one of the most important Korean artists of her generation. Born during the military dictatorship of South Korea, she graduated in sculpture from Hongik University during the late 1980s. Her works were concerned with politics in the broadest sense, delving into many variants of the fallible, all-too-human forms of idealism that permeate culture and civilisation. Her work draws on various intellectual mechanisms ranging from gender politics, idealism, modernism, science fiction and technological development. All these influences are expressed in her drawings, photographs, and performance (documented on video). From the very outset she has followed an iconoclast path, creating works that provocatively overstep the boundaries between genres and disciplines. Early street performance-based pieces saw Lee Bul wearing full-body soft sculptures which were both alluring and grotesque.
After 1990 her sculptural work took on particular relevance, evolving towards the creation of enormously ambitious installations. Her later female Cyborg sculptures of the 1990s drew upon art history, critical theory, science fiction and popular imagination to explore anxieties arising out of dysfunctional technological advances, whilst simultaneously harking back to icons of classical sculpture.
Lee Bul’s more recent works have similarly dual concerns; at once forward-looking yet retrospective, seductive but suggestive of ruin. Sculptures suspended like chandeliers, elaborate assemblages that glimmer with crystal beads, chains and mirrors, poignantly evoke castles in the air. The sculptures reflect utopian architectural schemes of the early twentieth century as well as images of totalitarianism from Lee Bul’s early experiences of the Korea military dictatorship. Good examples are After Bruno Taut (Beware the Sweetness of Things), 2007 and Untitled (“reflective highway”), 2010.
The exhibition at EACC features some of her sculptural output in which she explores what she sees as the failings of utopian optimism, generating forms more proper to a beautiful imaginary future she knows to be impossible, with works like Bunker (M. Bakhtin), 2007/2012, Via Negativa, 2012 and Souterrain, 2012.
Perhaps the most explicit of her works is Mon grand récit: Weep into stones… (2005), whose mountainous topography is reminiscent of skyscrapers described by Hugh Ferriss in his book The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1929). A nearby transmission tower broadcasts a flashing LED message from Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia (1658): “weep into stones / fables like snow / our few evil days.” Scaffolding supports several scale model structures: a looping highway made of bent plywood, a tiny Tatlin’s Monument, a modernist staircase that features in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and an upturned cross-section of the Hagia Sophia.
The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication, produced in collaboration with Artsonje Center, Seoul; Musée d’Art Moderne GrandDuc Jean, Luxembourg; IKON Gallery, Birmingham; Korean Cultural Centre UK, London; and Musée d'art moderne et contemporain Saint-Étienne Métropole. The exhibition has gone on show at the abovementioned venues and will conclude at EACC in Castelló, and is supported by the Korean Foundation, Lehmann Maupin, Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac and PKM Gallery.