“It is our dream come true to work with Lee Ufan in London” enthused Hans Ulrich Obrist at the KCCUK talk which marked the installation of Lee’s Relatum – Stage outside the Serpentine Gallery on 6 February. After Lee’s hugely high-profile project at Versailles in 2014, with such a dramatic backdrop, the siting in a London park, with the more humble edifice of the Serpentine Gallery nearby, is something of a contrast. And Lee did not commit to the commission until he had seen the proposed location: “sometimes it’s possible, sometimes it might not work,” he explained in the KCCUK interview (video below, courtesy of the Serpentine Gallery).
Lee’s sculptural work, which generally involve carefully arranged rocks and metal, is about dialogue and balance – between the work and its audience, between the human-made and the natural / human-found, and between the work and its surrounding environment. The latter dialogue is why, if the location is wrong, there can be no work. In a way, just as a traditional Korean garden borrows the surrounding scenery and landscape as part of its composition, so Lee’s open air sculpture has to work within the landscape in which it is set.
Lee’s Serpentine commission, called Relatum – Stage, has, to the north, the domestic-size brick building of the gallery itself; to the west is an open vista across the parkland to Kensington Palace in the distance; to the south is the Gothic splendour of the Albert Memorial, while to the east is a view towards central London. Milling about in the winter sunshine are joggers, cyclists, couples and families enjoying the fresh air.
Lee searched for the right rocks for his work in a Welsh quarry. There is one substantial rock which stands admiring itself in an angled mirror formed by two sheets of polished steel joined together. The way these sheets are angled creates something of an optical illusion: the viewer finds it difficult to find his own reflection; instead, just parkland and trees are reflected, and sometimes the large rock itself, making it seem as if the steel is transparent, simply forming a frame for the landscape behind it. Standing behind the mirror and peering shyly around its edge is a darker, humbler stone, seemingly reluctant to make an appearance. You can understand its coyness as the majestic larger rock preens itself in the glorious low-lying winter sunlight.
Relatum – Stage is in situ outside the Serpentine until the end of July.