The Korea Herald


Lee Bul showcases ‘micro versions’ of her signature, gigantic works

Acclaimed artist holds first solo gallery exhibition in Seoul in five years

By 이우영

Published : Sept. 6, 2015 - 17:28

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Lee Bul rose to fame in the Korean art scene with her radical performance art involving the subject of abortion in 1989. At an exhibition space in Seoul, the 25-year-old artist hung herself upside down while nude and spoke of her physical trauma to the audience.

In 1990, she held another performance wearing a monstrous oversized costume that was reminiscent of disfigured human forms on the streets in Tokyo.

The performances in her earlier art career were to express prejudice and oppression against women in a male-centric society. The extreme presentations gave her the nickname “Female Warrior.”

Now 51 years old, her works are not as radical as they were 26 years ago. But they have expanded to discuss wider issues such as life, desire and human nature.

In her solo exhibition at PKM Gallery in Seoul, Lee presents ten installations and drawings as part of her “Infinity” series that explores utopia and human desire. It is her first gallery exhibition held in five years in Seoul.
“I’ve shown many huge works so far. These are micro versions of them,” said Lee Bul. 
Installation view of Lee Bul‘s solo exhibition at PKM Gallery (Courtesy of the artist and PKM Gallery) Installation view of Lee Bul‘s solo exhibition at PKM Gallery (Courtesy of the artist and PKM Gallery)

She presented a huge mirror installation that filled a large exhibition room at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea last year. Following her retrospective at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo in 2012, her large installations have been showcased in Luxembourg and Spain. She is expected to hold more exhibitions at Vancouver Art Gallery and at Palais de Tokyo in Paris in October.

She has captured art audiences with her thought-provoking installations and their inventive visual expressions.

In the ongoing Seoul exhibition, the path to her artistic world is inside each hanging light installation. When viewers look inside the mirrors attached to the light installations, they see themselves reflected in the mirror and feel the world they stand in stretch into infinite. 
Untitled (“Infinity” suspended B01-1.1) by Lee Bul (Courtesy of the artist and PKM Gallery) Untitled (“Infinity” suspended B01-1.1) by Lee Bul (Courtesy of the artist and PKM Gallery)

“I hope viewers utter whatever questions they think of after seeing my work,” said Lee Bul.

Asked what she intended to present to viewers, Lee asked back: “Why would I have made this if viewers would easily find out my intentions?” 
Artist Lee Bul (Lee Woo-young/The Korea Herald) Artist Lee Bul (Lee Woo-young/The Korea Herald)

She installed a few settings that may intrigue curiosity in viewers.

She invented unknown words using a mix of Morse code and Esperanto -- two languages the artist says were made to overcome language barriers.

“Esperanto was born with a grand goal that the language would be used globally. But it failed to achieve the goal. Morse code is also widely shared. Its unique system and function serves special purposes,” said Lee Bul in the press preview of the exhibition on Aug. 26.

“When we know this, what does speaking a language mean?” queried Lee.

For the first time, the artist added color to her work. The new words are painted in colors, radiating a neon glow against the bright LED lights. She also used green plastic strings and metal accessories originally used in fashion design to add energy to the futuristic and silver light installations.

On the wall, broken mirrors are pieced together to form flat mirror sculptures, reflecting a distorted view of reality.

“Mirrors have been popular inspirations for many artists. Mirrors have a special ability that makes viewers confront themselves and discover how we perceive the world,” said the artist.

The exhibition runs through Sept. 25 at PKM Gallery in Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul. For more information, call (02) 734-9467.

By Lee Woo-young (