I had ashamedly never heard of celebrated South Korean artist, Lee Bul, before. I had seen a captivating pamphlet with her beautifully crafted “Apparition”, an installation of twisted metal, crystal beads, polyurethane on PVC and mirrors and instantly knew I had to see it. There was something grimly compelling about it. It was nostalgic, a faint reminder of an unexplainable morbid childhood image I would always have when I was sick.
As I entered the exquisite Mori Art Museum in Roppongi, I was asked by the concierge if I wanted an audio explanation of her work. I politely declined. I had everything I needed- my almost invisible memo pad, a borrowed pencil, my repertoire of music and my thoughts.
Stepping into “Lee Bul: From Me, Belongs to You Only“ is like delving deeply into an emotional abyss with no protection whatsoever. Your eyes feel violated, your heart pains, your thoughts become tangential.
“Monster: Pink”, a collection of performance sculptures, is one of Lee’s earliest works and is grotesquely hypnotic. I stood silently rooted to the almost blinding white ground perturbed by this oddly shaped sculpture. Enveloped with utter confusion I circled around the fabric protrusions desperately trying to decode what she was trying to convey.
Feeling defeated, I stood almost stoically listening to Walk of the Earth‘s cover of Gotye‘s “Someone I used to know” and the line “Love is still an ache I remember. You can get addicted to a certain type of sadness” kept echoing, reverberating through every fiber of my being.
There I had my answer.
As you meander your way through Lee Bul’s oeuvre one thing becomes incontrovertibly apparent, most of her work is intentionally left for individual interpretation. There is an imperceptible blur between reality and fantasy, leaving those who view it transfixed as if lost in another lonely dimension.
Her Live Forever II section features two wheel-less, spacecraft-like pod shaped karaoke booths in a disturbingly darkened room against a backdrop of a video projection showing dizzying views from a car speeding across a city at night. I removed my earphones, sat stationary on the bench and listened to Lee’s playlist. I was teleported into an unfamiliar universe where I was the only resident. I felt terribly lonely and I truly was.
Car Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, had once written, “Loneliness does not come from being alone, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important.” From Lee Bul’s futuristic inspired karaoke booth, I began understanding Lee more, from her was in fact me. She was speaking to me, communicating the feelings I had stifled, the feelings I was unable to admit to myself or articulate to anyone else. I was Lee and Lee was me.
Lee’s retrospective “From Me, Belongs to You Only” is a fascinating journey that is profoundly provocative, delicately alluring and sometimes disgustingly offensive that climaxes with the almost cathartic “The Secret Sharer”, a fragile dog shaped sculpture, made of glass, mirror and beads, that spews away its very essence.
As I peered out of the window from the fifty third floor, taking in the spectacular views of Tokyo and the seemingly never ending gloomy grey skies I gently opened my memo pad and read Lee’s words I had scribbled earlier:
“I actually think this is an inherent condition of utopia- to always give us the feeling that it’s getting closer. So human beings are always fated to be disappointed by those inevitable realization that it’s unreachable. Still we dream. I’m fascinated by those failures, as well as the dreams that the dreamers know could never materialize.”
She was right. Still I dream.
Jenson recommends: Visiting “Lee Bul: From Me, Belongs to You Only” in Roppongi, Tokyo. The exhibition ends May 27, 2012. =)