Korean artist Seulgi Lee expresses a desire to recognise what we have forgotten in a modern society.
Gallery Hyundai in Seoul showcases “DAMASESE”, a new solo exhibition of Paris-based Korean artist Seulgi Lee. Art Radar takes a close look at Seulgi Lee’s oeuvre and the meaning of the DAMASESE.
“DAMASESE DAMASESE DAMASESE DAMASESE SURI SURI DAMA DAMA SSEU EU EUK DAMA SUSU OKSUSU DAMAS DAMAS ABRACADABRA DAMA DAMA”
With eight capital letters and an invented word inspired by votive expressions, the title “DAMASESE” is an incantation Seulgi Lee created to expand the primary movement of language and the hopes for the master craftsman. She wants to spread the word of DAMASESE to make her own wishes.
Galley Hyundai carries Lee’s desire and offers audiences an opportunity to recognise her artworks as anthropological objects and to summon what we have forgotten in our daily lives by introducing a visual compression of imagination and linguistic structures within myths, tales and proverbs.
Lee’s works employ various media, with an emphasis on textiles and installation, and are distinguished by geometric patterns and vigorous colours. Her approaches are all contributing to the reinterpretation of conventional objects, like blankets and baskets, to explore universal experiences such as dreams, oral histories, and the linearity of history and language by posing questions towards things taken for granted.
Based on her interest in banal objects, Lee investigates how these things turn into an artwork when they are placed in a specific space, by approaching the inside and the outside of a space in the same way, and accepts the things we often see in everyday life on the same level of existence as ourselves. She also breaks the boundaries between the inside and the outside, the horizontal and the vertical and other fixed concepts, and gives new meaning to ordinary objects.
Seulgi Lee was born in Seoul in 1972, and has lived and worked in Paris since 1992. She studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where she was acquainted with sculpture and decorative art and craft, and at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where she studied performance, film, video-art and visual anthropology.
Blanket Project U
For this exhibition, Lee has brought the “Blanket Project U”, produced since 2014 in collaboration with Tong-Young Nubi Craftsman, Cho Sung-Yeon. “Blanket Project U” expresses Korean proverbs on a quilted blanket and conveys the story in the proverbs in the colours of five primary directions with geometric shapes. Lee expresses her thoughts about “Blanket Project U” on her personal website:
Since several years, I am working on a re-interpretation of Korean traditional blankets, each blanket recalling a proverb in a certain way. I took the traditional Korean blanket format produced till the 80s. Quilted in ‘Nubi’ technique line by line by artisans of Tong-Yeong, the direction of sewing participates in the construction and the meaning of the geometrical forms.
For example, in Even monkeys fall from trees = Even agile persons can make mistakes,the two circles represent a head of a monkey, a direct reference to Two circles No 127(1920) by Russian constructivist Alexandre Rodtchenko. The circles are situated in between two diagonal branches in gray. Since the monkey is falling down, the direction of the sewing is vertical, and the background is seen from upside down, like in a comic strip, to signify the sense of falling.
In Asia, colours are related to cosmology and the five directions. For example, Black corresponds to North, Red to South, Blue to East, White to West and Yellow to Center. People say that sleeping with the head towards the North is good for health, in Asia as well as in Europe.
Whoever sleeps under this blanket can dream like a proverb, and spin like a compass. When presented on a low pedestal, it reminds of the position of the bed. When presented on the wall, the physical impact of the different colours or of the contours gains more importance.
The blanket is sort of a frontier between reality and dream. In that very intimate place I imply a collective dream. I imagine that the collective story contained in the pattern of the blanket can influence the dream of the person who uses it. (extracted from the artist’s website, and edited for clarity)
Lee especially paid attention to lighting and colour combination of the series’ presentation for the audience to perceive the space, the artworks and all the elements as a whole by setting the walls of the exhibition hall to a light grey colour. Through this project, Lee proposed to understand the relationship between oral culture and handicraft to discover certain primitive gestures that people adopted in their lives.
Basket Project W
The “Basket Project W” originated from a trip Lee made to the Ixcatlan village in Santa Maria, north of Mexico’s Oaxaca province. This project focuses on the revival of the disappearing language Ixcatteco, which is now almost gone and used by less than ten people in Ixcatlan towns. Here, a local community of female basket-makers called Xula weave baskets out of palm tree fibres. The baskets made by craftsmen combine with the legs made by the French metal craftsmen and are reborn in a new form in Lee’s artworks.
Traditional handicrafts that deal with natural materials are not merely instrumentalising the materials, but they interact with mediums and craftsmen who fully understand their materiality, and apply a systemised technique as if forming and communicating the primitive language structure of the community.
Ginkgo Project B
The Ginkgo Project B, presented for the first time in “DAMASESE”, is an installation filled with ginkgo leaves in the exhibition space on the first floor. This work examines the meaning of ginkgo leaves as a mundane object and provides visitors with an engaging experience of colours that change through time in contrast to the intended colours of the wall.
Ginkgo Project B also connects to “Blanket Project U” and “Basket Project W” series. The vertical lines inside of the ginkgo leaves remind of patchwork blankets and the texture of the baskets. Furthermore, “Ginkgo Project B” is a series that breaks the boundary between ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, a concept that Lee has been steadily pursuing as a continuation of “DUSK SOUP”, which was presented at the gallery HO in Marseille in 2014.
Tamis Project O
Another work introduced for the first time at the exhibition is “Tamis Project O”. For this project, Lee collaborated with a wooden net craftsman in the midwest of France to recreate the old style French grain-weighing device called boisseau, a round barrel, to measure the weight of colour she presents. Lee took the shape of boisseau, made one with a 30-year-old Beech tree and painted the inside of the circle frame. These works were installed at a height of two metres, hanging from the ceiling, allowing viewers to look up at the works from below to recognise the witty connection of the shape of the vowel sounds a, e, i, o, u in their different shapes.
Recently, Lee collaborated with the luxury fashion brand Hermès on a series of limited edition cashmere quilts, as well as with furniture brand IKEA in the Art Lug Project (alongside Virgil Abloh and other creatives) that will be released and sold for a limited time from spring 2019.
Through this exhibition, Seulgi Lee hopes to recollect and reflect on things we have forgotten in modern society by reconnecting the reality and hidden world of myths, stories and proverbs through banal objects.
Soo Jeong Kang
“DAMASESE” by Seulgi Lee is on view from 15 November to 23 December 2018 at Gallery Hyundai, 14 Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-190, Korea.