Of Origin and Future II

Beccy Kennedy introduces I-MYU’s exhibition for Asian Art in London week

Venue: Alon Zakaim Fine Art
30 Cork street, Mayfair, London, W1S 3NG

Time: 29th October to 7 November 2009
Late night opening: 2nd of November 6-9pm

The Future of Originality

The movement which came to be known as postmodernism drew our attention to the spaces where originality used to be. It took our sense of disappointment with the loss of tradition in everyday life and embodied it into something new-fangled, however mangled and mingled this became. Although a movement whose dialectical origins reside in Modernism, a Western phenomenon, the issues which postmodernism interrogated can be experienced worldwide. The small wooden houses seen amongst the mountains in Korean Literati style paintings would now be surburban settlements; the reapers in Van Gogh’s French hay fields have been replaced by tractors. The application of ink with Confucian vigour can now be replicated through tapping plastic buttons, generating contours for animation. The layered and rigorous strokes of oil on canvas may just as readily be acrylic splattered against a gallery wall – fleeting gestures caught as concepts, the attentiveness in the reasoning or the record, not in the intensity of industriousness. These changes in the production of industry, art and knowledge have become subject to transnational ventures, mediated global experiences; in South Korea the expediency of these processes is palpable. Artists Lee Leenam and Lee Gilwoo explore these changes in the perceptions of art when they challenge and juxtapose style, medium and iconographic expectations, without compromising their artistic assiduousness. They appear to ask the question: what has postmodernism done for us?

Lee Lee-nam: Kumgang Mountain Tanballyong pass Video, 5min 30secs
Lee Lee-nam: Kumgang Mountain Tanballyong pass Video, 5min 30secs

Lee Leenam brings to our attention the aesthetic beauty of historically celebrated paintings of ‘traditional’ landscapes and portraits by breathing fresh life into them with the use of digital animation; adding movement and narrative to the existing motifs. In doing this he implies more generally that post modernist perspective, combined with processes of globalisation, has encouraged flexibility of spirit when it comes to viewing, utilising and creating works of art. The critical concepts of deconstructionism have brought the viewer’s awareness to the historicism of culture, encouraging artists to challenge or engage with ‘masterpieces’ and works of iconic cultural significance. Lee’s animated screens allow Van Gogh’s self portrait to smoke from a pipe, or Chong Son’s 18thC Korean true-view landscape, ‘After Rain at Mount Inwangsan,’ to be illuminated by the florescent window light of the house on the hill – no longer a lone dwelling, as the skyscrapers of Seoul glisten in the distance. Some would say that the depicted intervention of prefabricated concrete to the revered mountain-scape is discourteous, others would say ingenious, topical or realistic. And ‘postmodernism’ does this; it catalyses these questions. And Lee does this with postmodernism.

Lee Gilwoo: Dancer in nature (2009) Korean paper, soldering iron, indian ink, coloring, paste, coating. 135X170 cm
Lee Gilwoo: Dancer in nature (2009) Korean paper, soldering iron, indian ink, coloring, paste, coating. 135X170 cm

Lee Gilwoo, like Lee Leenam, interculturates genres, media, and icons between sites of history and fabrication, creating something new and pertinent within this fusion. His ‘Irrelevant Answers’ series take mass produced images of, often Western, idols and superimposes them with a layer of pointillist style dots which themselves form vistas of historical ‘Oriental’ iconography. They look like double image holograms which appear to move when you change your angle and perspective. Both of the image layers of Lee Gilwoo’s pictures confront the global audience’s expectations and preconceptions of ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ culture; they are different but they are also congruous in terms of their generated meaning. It is the two images interacting simultaneously which creates the meaning, which teases the questions concerning identities in the twenty first century and which constitutes an original aesthetic product in itself. Curiously, Lee Gilwoo combines Indian ink, colouring paste and a soldering technique to make his marks on Korean paper. There is something irreversible about this process, this branding onto the surface of the image, like Lee is claiming his ownership of Western-centric mass produced iconography whilst imprinting his own identity formations upon them. Both Lees create something inimitable, not just in the end product of their art works as they sit pretty in the gallery space but also in the meticulousness of their created process, from their ideation, through their accomplishment. There is nothing new in conceptual art or in craftsmanship but there is something exciting in these artists’ aptitude to combine the two, to encourage the viewer to re-experience and question original images within dissonant new contexts.

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