Jee Young Maeng / Curator, DOOSAN Gallery
“Be that as it may, recalling the Radetzky March. Heading toward Yeonhui-dong through Ansan. From Seodaemun Gate to Euljiro, from Jongno to Gwanghwamun Gate, seeing artworks in Sagan-dong, and passing Sajik Tunnel to Shinchon. Before I knew it, already five hours have passed while I was walking. It clears my mind.” (Hyunkgoo Lee)
The artist walks everyday, walks, and walks again. He faces the self in the life of everyday and the familiar, of seemingly aimless acts. The days are like any other. Each time he sees the crude face that continues to proffer a different front as if it is never affected and it knows nothing, frustration reaches the bottom of his chin and leaves nowhere. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, he walks, and walks, and walks again. Through the act of repetitive walk, the gaze slowly moves itself from the exterior to the interior. What was felt unlevel and irregular on the outside really was that of the inner. It is not easily noticed, however. The internal examiner persistently tries to bring balance but it is not easy. The changing landscape –and it changes according to the sound from encounters, fragrances in the air, and the pace of the moving gaze– from walking and walking again somewhere along the way overlaps with the sound and rhythm of the body. As time passes, that is, finally around the time the body exhausts itself from the battle between the internal movements and the exterior, the definite meanings of the inside and the outside blur. How long has it been. After breathing a little, he begins to back track the time whose traces are left on his body.
Hyungkoo Lee forgets his very self through the kind of performative acts, like his usual, repetitive walks, and at the same time stresses it to the extreme; and there, he makes the allegory of contradiction. He quietly reveals his desire through self-training and disciplinary exercises. His works in series seem to hold some type of destination that he wishes either to create or to realize by working himself out. The desire to turn into a thing other than that of now originates from the dissatisfaction with the present, or its deprivation in the moment. It is when that desire takes on an exterior display, once satiated, contradiction comes into sight. Although the surfacing of the desire from the acts, seemingly monotonous and repetitive, is inevitable, devices that allow its appearance are of voluntary determination. The acts, creative with the devices, become the trainer of the self and at the same time what enliven the wants for possession and display. Lee’s making of instruments and devices that visually expand, or distort, parts of the body, walking around, having put them on, saving these acts in photo documentation, and naming his studio, resemblant to a mechanical engineering laboratory, a part of his work have all become inevitable results, consequential to voluntary choices.
Measure (2014), the single-channel video of five minutes and eight seconds that carry the serial process of training the self as one would, the horse, gives an image of solemn proposal. In this video, the artist, wearing white in a space that is white, appears with a resolute face and re-enacts dressage –it is a sport that pursues the finest scene of nature and beauty, achieved as the horse and the equestrian harmonize– not with a horse but with his own body. As a matter of fact, he puts on Instrument 01 (2014), made of aluminum tube and allusive to the skeleton of the equine hind legs, in place of the horse, and moves with it and as it; in this work, his repetitive walks and disciplinary acts are much ingrained. When the structure that is familiar changes, the ways of existence also change. The rhythm from his natural walks gets substituted by the ‘unnatural’ equine movements, and the unnatural eventually becomes natural after continuous and intensive training. That is to say, he disturbs the ‘natural’ rhythm of everyday and thereby comes up with his own rhythm, either previously hidden or entirely new. Here, the ‘natural’ brought by Hyungkoo Lee not only accommodates the movements resulted of the repetitive acts but also the installations, and drawings created by his persistent manual labor.
Poet and critic David Levi Strauss, when discussing sculptor Martin Puryear’s work in his book, Head to Hand: Art and the Manual (2010), quotes Thoreau: “We reason from our hands to our heads.” Thoreau goes on and says, “We know and understand things as we apprehend them through the labor and pleasure of our hands, so we tend to proceed from the perceptual to the conceptual and back again. When one side of the relation is over-emphasized, an imbalance occurs.” Lee’s installations, Chapter (2014), Instrument 01 (2014), Through Small Windows (2014), MΩ 140 (2014), and drawings, M 01~03 (2014) and Ritual (2014), bring lightness to balance with the solemn, that is nevertheless playful, and add hints for sensing the unseen, multitudinous processes. The artist’s technically perfect installations, bringing handwork of craftsmen to mind, resonate together with the performative drawings of sublime and ritualistic labor. He begins the ‘Measure’ with his bronze, Chapter (2014), and the material’s solid and firm mass, and without showing the whole of the working process that is visually inaccessible, arranges the entire exhibition by guiding the audience based on his own elaborate manual. Considering aesthetics at its highest, Lee maintains the lightness by keeping the fine and the meticulous in moderation. Moreover, in works as Ritual (2014), bearing the traces of training/discipline on six lead plates of 182x92cm, he presents the soft and pliant material’s fragility against external strains, without reservation, and eases the tension that comes from the strict processes.
The critique of Levi Strauss on one of the influential effects of Puryear’s work being that it makes the human relations with labor visible and direct points precisely to this day that sees too frequently the superabundance of works deprived of materials that integrate bodily reason. Would it be for this reason that Hyungkoo Lee’s installations and drawings, making an unfamiliar sight, trigger both visual pleasure and derangement of senses, and using the sleek and painstaking materials, end up ironically pulling the viewers to realizing what they feel are much present?