- Joan Kee
Korean mixed media and performance artist. Lee studied sculpture at Hongik University in Seoul. Upon graduation Lee staged performance-based works in venues throughout Seoul and Tokyo during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many of these performances concerned the subject of the human body and deployed the strategy of masquerade to parody and hyperbolize masculine representations of women. At this time Lee also began creating sculptural installations that marked the beginning of her long-standing use of such non-traditional materials as resin, sequins, foam, and rubber. Such materials were often used for their symbolic associations as well as their formal properties.
From around 1996, Lee moved towards an exploration of the imagined body. The references that Lee drew upon became increasingly abstract, although she consistently maintained her interest in exploring the role of formal qualities, such as colour, scale, and texture, in producing meaning. Lee moved from works such as I Need You/Hydra (1996; see also Hydra (Monument)), which overtly satirized the tendency of viewers, especially Western viewers, to accept cultural stereotypes at face value, to a series of large-scale installations based on cyborg and monster iconographies that encompassed a wide range of references. These references ranged from female cyborgs in Japanese animation and aberrant morphologies in nature to iconic art historical representations of women.
Lee also investigated issues arising from the notion of technological innovation in sculptural installations such as Cyborg W1–W4 (1998). Here, innovation was presented less as a holistic, progressive process, than as one characterized by its fragmented, incoherent nature. Lee also evoked the tensions produced from the juxtaposition of organic forms with inorganic, artificial ones, found throughout modern and contemporary culture. In works such as Amaryllis (1999), plant-like appendages, reminiscent of those in soft fabric found in her earlier works, are made of polyurethane coated with white enamel, thus giving the entire installation a hard, porcelain-like texture.
Technological innovation also figures prominently in interactive works, such as the Live Forever series (2001–; see fig.), which features fibreglass karaoke pods, whose form alludes to the retro-futuristic designs of mid-20th century USA. Viewers were invited to enter these pods and, wearing headphones, to sing along to pre-selected tracks of well-known pop songs. As with the earlier Gravity Greater Than Velocity (1999), which also placed viewer—participants in the closed-loop of self-reflexive performance, Live Forever addressed, among other issues, the tendency within industrialized societies to regulate and determine the personal desires of the individual.
Lee continued to expand her exploration of the imagined body in works such as Ein Hungerkünstler (2004). This installation, which draws its title from a short story by Franz Kafka, examines notions of the grotesque and the vulnerability of the body. It also brought together Lee’s interest in materiality, the tension between the organic and the inorganic, and the relationship between the work and the viewer.
- Lee Bul: Live Forever Act One (exh. cat., San Francisco, CA, A. Inst. Gals, 2001)
- Lee Bul: Live Forever Act Two (exh. cat., Philadelphia, PA, Fabric Workshop & Mus., 2002)
- J.-F. Poitevin and E. Wetterwald: Lee Bul: Monsters (Dijon, 2002)
- H.-U. Obrist: ‘Lee Bul’, Hans-Ulrich Obrist: Interviews, ed. T. Boutoux, 1 (Milan, 2003), pp. 529–37
- Lee Bul (exh. cat. by R. Kent:; Sydney, Mus. Contemp. A., 2004)
- World Rush–4 Artists: Doug Aitken, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Lee Bul and Sarah Sze (exh. cat. by M. Bal, K. Gellatly and C. Green:; Melbourne, N.G. Victoria, 2004)
- Lee Bul: On Every New Shadow (exh. cat., Paris, Fond. Cartier A. Contemp., 2007)