The Korea Herald


The world we perceive is in mirrors

By Lee Woo-young

Published : Sept. 24, 2012 - 20:03

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View of the Lee Bul’s solo exhibition at Artsonje Center. (Jeon Byung-cheol/Artsonje Center) View of the Lee Bul’s solo exhibition at Artsonje Center. (Jeon Byung-cheol/Artsonje Center)
Lee Bul starts second phase of her artistic career three months after a retrospective exhibition in Japan

Lee Bul, one of Korea’s most internationally recognized artists, embarked on a new phase in her artistic career presenting new sculptures three months after a retrospective exhibition in Japan.

Lee recalled the three-month project to create the four brand new pieces “reckless,” but admitted she found a light at the end of the long tunnel that might lead her to a new phase of her art world.

“Looking back, my 20-year artistic career was just bitter. And I tried my best to overcome the bitterness,” said Lee, adding she tried to fight off complex emotions since the beginning of her retrospective at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, which ended in May.

The 48-year-old established artist has engaged in the process of finding herself again using mirrors as the main material for her new sculptural works and hopes viewers will experience a similar process of rediscovering themselves.

“I wanted to talk about ‘reflection,’ through which we perceive ourselves in relation to the world we live in. The exhibition started with the idea that how we perceive the world can be through reflection,” said Lee Bul at a recent news conference at Artsonje Center in Seoul.

Lee invites viewers to enter the sculptural works and experience senses that stimulate them as she attempted to close the distance between her artwork and viewers.

“It’s my new approach to the idea of how I would meet my audience,” said Lee.

“Viewers will find themselves trying to find out what it is (they are seeing) and in order to do that their senses will have to stay awake throughout the experience,” Lee added. 
“Souterrain” by Lee Bul. (Jeon Byung-cheol/Artsonje Center) “Souterrain” by Lee Bul. (Jeon Byung-cheol/Artsonje Center)

What viewers encounter at the entrance of the exhibition hall is “Souterrain,” a narrow passage with mirrors fixed at different angles inside, which completely separates the world where they stood before and the world they are about to enter.

Lee intends to cause an integrated impact on audience through three installation pieces.

“It’s like paying attention to the dialogue among the three pieces, rather than finding what each piece means,” said Lee.

The “Via Negativa,” a labyrinthine corridor lined with mirrors, allows one person to pass through the passage at a time and lets them immerse themselves into an illusion of infinite space in the middle of thousands of reflections from fragmented mirror pieces.

The rocky cave-like “Bunker” features a sound system through which viewers can listen to their echoing voices just as if they were inside a cave.

“Bunker,” part of Lee’s Mon grand recit series, is to commemorate Yi Gu, the last heir to the Joseon Dynasty who was also was at one point an architect in New York. The artwork integrates various incidents in Yi’s life ― being summoned to Korea by former President Park Chung-hee to create a symbolic restoration project of Joseon, living an unhappy life under Park’s order, returning to Japan as a broken man, and eventually dying in a hotel room in Tokyo.

On the third floor, Lee recreates her studio where the visitors can gain an overall understanding of her art world through sketches of her works including the famous “Cyborg” and “Anagram.”

“I wanted to reveal how I work and my work process to the audience. It feels like showing my underwear to them. But I thought it might help them to understand how my works have been created in what context and how they developed,” said Lee.

Lee’s solo exhibition will be showcased at the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art in Luxembourg City in 2013 and at the contemporary art gallery Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in the U.K. in 2014.

Lee Bul’s solo exhibition runs through Nov. 4 at Artsonje Center in Seoul.

For more information, call (02) 733-8945 or visit

By Lee Woo-young (