2001-2009 Questions on the Existential Horizon of Life
By Youngsil Sohn, Curator of the Seoul Museum of Art & Ph.D. in Art Media Theory
This exhibition of Lee Chang-hoon’s work focuses on unveiling the artist’s identity naturally and showcasing his oeuvre. The presupposition in his work is to express a theme extensively through natural flows of thought, through video, installation, and photography. Lee’s work proves an essential process, express his changing concerns, rather than highlighting just one theme or way. An artistic medium is an external environment or a condition influencing on an artist’s imagination and thought. A thought regards potential, and the possibility of embodying it can be amplified through an artistic act, of altering the system of the medium. For French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, “What determines existence is now a way,” so a change in medium can bring about the alteration or expansion of an artist’s sensibility or idea, and may develop our own visual, aural sense’s ability for accommodation.
Most works on display were produced recently, and in Germany, and can be largely classified into periods within Lee’s oeuvre. In the first, Lee explored the issue of boundary, highlighting contrasting concepts such as being and non-being; falsity and truth; speed and slowness; illusion and reality; light and shade. This work shows contrasting concepts without obvious difference, which are actually rather complementary, expressing the paradox of contrast. In Stone, based on Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dream, Lee broke down ambiguous boundaries between truth and falsity. In this work, regarding the confusion of the five senses through alteration of an object’s properties and materials, Lee demonstrates distinctions between reality and illusion are ambiguous, representing a stone that is akin to a real one.
In the video Libera Me, repetitively showing a statue, Lee overturns relationships between a dynamic subject – the ‘I’ videotaping the statue – and a static object – the statue – in a process of conversion, through still to moving video image, metaphorically representing humanity’s endless desires and frustrations, repeated in the movement of the statue’s hand.
In the next period of his oeuvre, Lee addressed themes of life and death, shifting his viewpoint toward general aspects of life, and to faithful representation of emotion, which he felt in his life as an individual. In Creation, based on the concept, the process of human affairs is similar to the process of burning a candle, Lee conveys the message that, life is a process of extinction, and nobody is free from death. In Game, Lee carries the message, life is like a game, in which we always choose something, while in Nothing, a 90-minute video, he expresses the vanity of life, and that we all come from and eventually return to nothingness.
If his work of this period focuses on giving form to life, vanity, and fleetingness, with Flying Away, Lee visualizes what he felt, after viewing an old movie and its credits. This work overlaps the names he saw on screen, ascending into the sky, like birds flying, with the idea, many actors are probably in their old age, or are already deceased. In (In)visible, which began from the idea, “What’s behind contemporary people who live, just looking at the front?”, Lee naturally expresses the personal emotion he feels in life, day by day.
In his recent works that focus mostly on photographs such as The Island, Babelstreet, and A City, Lee expresses a house as an isle isolated from individuals and society by dispensing with any depiction of windows and doors. Founded on the idea on his own life gradually isolated from society, he visualizes the issue of severance among contemporary humans, through the process of erasing windows, doors, and roads intermediating society and individual, individual and individual. The main point of his work here is about the question how an artist sticks to reality. His act comprising presentation, reflection, and discourse is close to a cultural practice, moving beyond a mere act of chronicling realities.
Open Studio – Lonely Water, Vacant Room is based on his idea that what the artist feels in his studio is like a voyage toward the unknown world, expressing fear of the future and life. Not for Sale, featuring an unexpected situation a work of art is sold despite the notice, “Not for sale,” shows a thought on boundary is closely associated with an act to go beyond it, exposing his conflict and irony between commercial and experimental value.
The advent of conceptual art has shifted a paradigm of art to ideas from the visual. As Paul Virilo stated, his thought on boundary seems to be trying to achieve the arts beyond art, showing the loss of effectiveness in the ‘strategy of perception’. Lee’s work poses questions on the existential horizon of life, expressing his poetic sensibility and conceptual themes that may appear serious and heavy, through a wide variety of methodologies based on extensive experiences.