A Game of the Real and Imaginary Aroused by Imagination : Excavation and The Islands
Lee Young-hee has recently created a series entitled Excavation, displaying them at the show The Crack. In this work she represents her emotions derived from the color, texture, and pattern of comb-pattern pottery, exploring its potential. Lee approaches this work not to restore the pottery’s original form but to represent a world of new imagination through the overlap of forms with diverse textures and patterns. The concepts of ‘restoration’ in archeology and ‘representation’ in art are very similar in that both rely completely on the original form. Despite the difference of the two concepts, the former is to revive an object’s original appearance while the latter is to represent the original form through imitation.
If she confined her attitude toward the pottery to just restoration or representation, Lee’s work would only be a record of past things or a recreation of something from the past. But, she sees artifacts like pottery as complex symbols of space and time, going beyond mere imitation or revival. In other words, Lee sees this pottery as an accumulation of space and time. Lee does not perceive an artifact as a completely separate individual; instead she sees all the traces of life in the multiple layers covering the artifact and even the wild grass growing between its fragments. Her view of or attitude toward space and time does not fix the present time by dividing it as a lineal unit, but represents it as something abstract in which the present time is a mixture of past and future time. She understands things are always in flux. I described this feature of her work in my essay on her 1997 exhibition as “something multilayered, situated at the point where stagnant and continuous time, the variable and invariable, shared things and fragmented time intersect”
Upon close examination, we realize the fragments of a pottery she uses have different patterns and forms and thus lack unity. The pottery appears as a combination of different fragments and surrounding images collected from diverse places at random. Her work above all shows it has nothing to do with restoration or representation in that it still remains as fragments, and does not embody any complete form of pottery.
The main materials the artist used until recently were fibers with subtle difference such as cotton cloth and hemp cloth and other subsidiary materials such as abaca, sewing cotton, and cotton. Lee inserts cotton or leaves in a fiber structure with inner and outer cloth and then combines this with other elements. Next, she dyes this with red clay to create the illusion of faded color, and then inscribes patterns of the pottery on its fragments.
Fragments Lee Young-hee makes do not form a work of art but mere material for creating a work of art; things that can be combined and reconstructed, depending on situation and site, a way reinforced by her open ways of display and work. The artist has exhibited her works not only in galleries and museums, but display windows and walls of a department store. Recently, she displayed work at outdoor venues of the Winter Daeseong-ri exhibition and Juksan Arts Festival. The selection of venue and method of installation are dependent on the situation there or her imagination of and inspiration from the place. This approach recalls an era before art was displayed in a frame. Since then however painters came without consideration of the venue where their works are displayed. In this sense Lee’s work offers the clue to a significant aesthetic element. That is art should not separate from real life or comprehensive space-time that takes place there.
Her 1998 solo exhibition at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art was The Islands. The museum building had a unique structure with many floors plus one semi-basement linked with steps. Once a performance hall, the building had a rough surface, and all doors between galleries were gone.
Her installation here reminiscent of islands appeared connected and overlapping within, slightly apart from the floor under lighting recalling a dark night at sea. The semi-basement was presented as a clandestine space like a cave filled with moisture and curiosity. But, the second floor was soaked with natural light from a wall-size window, and nothing was installed there. Structures reminiscent of small islands on a borderless sea: and objects on walls looked like a precipice, while vinyl and red clay on the floor evoked reality.
Lee’s work dramatically presents space through a game of represented images in imagination and association. The most salient change to the 1998 exhibition is her return to the images of association. They recover a lyric, sympathetic emotion, embracing a meditative, transcendental view of nature sporadically appearing in previous work featuring abstract images.