Lee Yong-baek honours Paik Nam June at Venice Biennale

There’s an awful amount of twaddle on display in the country pavilions at the Venice Biennale. Probably the greatest amount of tosh was to be found in the Australian pavilion, which included a free-standing notice-board cast in resin, and where an empty plinth entitled Venus rising from the Waves was heard to elicit the understandable question “is that it?” from a bemused onlooker.

Germany was the deserved winner of the best pavilion. Two years ago their pavilion was a temple to the manufacturing of kitchen units. This time round the temple concept was taken much more literally, as the pavilion was reconfigured to resemble the inside of a church, complete with pews and altar. And the church seemed to be in part a shrine to great experimental artists of the past. A documentary video work commemorated the work of the Fluxus movement, which included Joseph Beuys, John Cage and Korean-born Nam June Paik. The video included footage of a performance on Paik’s TV Cello and one of his shaman ceremonies. The pavilion was both educational and thought-provoking, in a good way.

Angel Soldier uniforms hanging out to dry outside the Korean pavilion
Angel Soldier uniforms hanging out to dry outside the Korean pavilion

Next door, in the Korean pavilion, Nam June Paik and the Fluxus movement was also being commemorated by artist Lee Yong-baek. On a wall were displayed brightly-coloured military uniforms, and significant members of the Fluxus movement had their names embroidered over the chest pockets – Joseph Beuys, John Cage, Marcel Duchamp and of course Paik himself.

The military uniforms of four Fluxus members
The military uniforms of four Fluxus members

The uniforms are the same as those used in Lee’s Angel Soldier – a video work featuring a dark amorphous landscape covered with brightly coloured flowers, through which, imperceptibly slowly, camouflaged soldiers are making their way in a rather threatening manner. The video itself, and stills therefrom, formed part of this retrospective of Lee’s work.

Lee Yong-baek: Narcissus (2008), seen reflected in Between Buddha and Jesus
Lee Yong-baek: Narcissus (2008), seen reflected in Between Buddha and Jesus

Other familiar works were also on display – his Plastic Fish were shown at the Korean Eye group show two years ago, and his video work In Between Buddha and Jesus was at the Asia House group show, Through the Looking Glass in 2006.

Lee Yong-baek Broken Mirror (2011)
Lee Yong-baek Broken Mirror (2011)

New to me were the video installation Broken Mirror (2011), which harks back to Quac In-sik’s piece entitled Work (1962) which is a simple piece of broken glass against a black panel. Lee’s piece is more sophisticated, using LCD monitors, a computer, stereo speakers and mirrors; and the moment of impact of bullet on the mirror makes the audience jump. An interesting technical achievement.

Lee Yong-baek: Pieta (2008)
Lee Yong-baek: Pieta (2008)

But the works which dominated the entrance to the pavilion and the main part of the interior space were Pieta (2008) and Narcissus (2008) – plastic moulded crash-test dummies fighting each other (Narcissus) or acting out the famous scene of Mary cradling the dead body of Christ.

Lee Yong-baek: Narcissus (2008), seen from outside the Korean pavillion
Lee Yong-baek: Narcissus (2008), seen from outside the Korean pavillion

An interesting collection of work, but despite the learned essays in the catalogue, it was difficult to know what to make of it.

Lee Yongbaek
The Love is gone but the Scar will heal
Korean Pavilion
The 54th International Art Exhibition
la Biennale di Venezia
2011

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