MMCS Hyundai Motor Series
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. 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.
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 meters long and 7 meters 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 mirrors.
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 16th 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-meter-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 20th 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.
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.