Seung Ae Lee won the 2016 Valerie Beston Artists’ Trust Prize for the body of work presented at her Royal College of Art degree show. The award brought with it the opportunity to show her work at Marlborough Fine Art in two brief exhibitions in 2016 and 17. Her solo show at the KCC, Becoming, gave the audience the chance to spend more time with her meticulous pencil-drawn animations.
The centrepiece of the new show was her latest work, Becoming (2017), which was projected onto the main wall of the exhibition space and greeted you as you entered. Her work deals with metamorphosis, in which familiar shapes and objects transform in front of your eyes. Ants and tadpoles, needle and thread, beads and brains, ears and vases all form part of the strangely hypnotic journey.
The delicate pencil-drawn monochrome shading contrasts with the surreal subject matter: when strange, organic plantlike shoots burst forth from a skull, your brain is attuned to expect gaudy colours such as those to be found in Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python, or the slightly calmer but still colourful oils of Dali. Instead, you see exquisite charcoal draftsmanship unveil and transform before your eyes.
The highlight of the exhibition is probably the installation at the far end of the corridor alongside the windows: in a curtained-off space is her Cabinet (2017) projected over a perfectly still artificial pool. The water in the pool is coloured with Asian ink – of the sort that is used in traditional monochrome ink painting to which Lee’s work in part seems to play homage The aroma of the ink fills the room while the blackness of the pool perfectly reflects the black and white animation projected onto the wall above: a traditional cabinet with paper doors with Seung Ae Lee’s characteristic surreal transformations of brains, beads, ants and more.
As for the content of the animations themselves, do not expect a strong, coherent narrative. Do not expect readily to extract meaning from the images. These are dreamlike, stream of unconsciousness animations where one thing leads organically but surprisingly to another, before circling back to where it started or maybe arcing in a completely different direction. Just go with the flow, and you will be rewarded.
Seung Ae Lee’s Becoming was at the Korean Cultural Centre UK from 8 March to 7 April 2018
A quick video of Seung Ae Lee completing a mural at the KCC:
and a shot of the main exhibition space
both from the KCC’s intagram feed