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situation(people)_Oil on Canvas_120 x 240 cm_2009


The subtitle of Lee Joung-A solo exhibition ride the train is from a song, as it features work showing people, acting like people riding on a train. One work shows a group of people walking in the same direction, seeming to represent the homogeneity of contemporary labor and production. They wear different clothes and shoes, but move in the same order. With this show, Lee has focused on capturing people in instants, in certain situations, within the Shinsegye Department Store, Gangnam, Seoul, from an intermediate standpoint. For Lee, a department store is a downgraded version of contemporary, capitalistic society, where acts of consumption occur in states of homogeneity. Groups of typical, middle class people, flock for consumption and entertainment, in patterns of appearance and action, within each painting. One is situation07-female, featuring three women shoppers at the center of the canvas, each carrying well-known, branded handbags. They have similar body shapes, style of dress, similar outer appearance suggesting similar personalities, age, class, and tastes. situation06-talk features three aged men taking a rest in the corner of the store, conveying a possible truth about consumption, that is, aged men’s alienation from it. The three men, wearing clothes and caps of a similar style, adopt similar poses, appearing like triplets! The canvas seems filled with goods and symbols, but seems to remain empty.

situation(talk)_Oil on Canvas_120×240cm_2009

This blankness removes any concrete context from reality. In other paintings, onlookers appear distant from lines of consumers, but engage in potential acts of consumption: a man reads a book in an uncomfortable pose and seems confined to an unnatural ordering of life. Alienation from production distances us from consumption. Following this idea, each class of people in Lee's work, whether busy consumers, or unengaged onlookers, are alienated. Lee's work captures the great, modern structures of fetish, and consumers in the typical places of contemporary society, to provoke an oppressive atmosphere. But at the same time, her work offers escape from the dark, and gloom. Her paintings are aspects of our time, though they are not sociological reports - they appear neutral and ambivalent. If there are traps in everyday life, they are invisible in her work, while people willing to be caught by the traps do so through desire, rather than passivity. Focusing more on people's body language than the people themselves, Lee's pictures are dramatic. They look like stages in a situational or experimental play, rather than any dramatic scenes from a narrative. "The canvas is a stage summoning figures according to my scenarios," she explains. Lee shows different actions in the same situations, capturing the nuances of difference, and unconscious gestures in the public. In her artist’s statement for 2008, Lee also revealed interest in gathering instants and situations. Her way of gathering included experiments through which she presented situations to her participants, then took the results, to reprocess the observed within reality. The two ways are compatible, despite the difference of setting or situation.

situation(female)_Oil on Canvas_194×259cm_2009

While in Germany Lee's work was experimental, and also looks realistic. However, participants in each experimental situation were not completely controlled. To this we can say, theoretical experiments are not completely distinguishable from empirical observations, and the both are mutually influential. In situations staged in a studio, people squatting, hugging each other, or sitting in a circle, reveal unexpected, patterned responses that arise when people meet with people, and people meet with objects. So, even those free to wander in a shopping can demonstrate fixed patterns of action. Whether in experimental or empirical situations, all Lee's characters are anonymous, and part of a whole. This is a strategy Lee uses to capture the whole from its parts. Her use of neutral backgrounds makes their neutrality look conspicuous. The situations Lee paints are reinforced through photography and computer modification prior to her work at the canvas. And she makes complicated, formative elements appear simple and intense in each painted moment, thus maintaining for herself a certain distance from the process of representation. Consequently, her work has that unique sense of space offering by painting and unavailable to mechanically reproduced artwork. This is not to synthesize other figures with objects, reveal their secrets, or objectify them in contrast to other subjects; this is to present another dimension of reality, by placing herself outside herself and others. The act is not to make presumptions about the subject and object, or transcend the two; it is simply, necessary, for examining the characteristics of the people Lee take as subject matter, and understand her positions outside herself and others. Meetings among the masses, in the age of mass-production, and mass-consumption, are governed by a system, and Socio-psychologists have stressed the role of the unconscious in this dynamic. In The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (La Psychologie des Foules), published in the late 19th century, Gustav Le Bon argued that an individual’s conscious action is replaced with the unconscious action of the crowd. People who usually remain separate experience unconscious forces when in a group. Likewise, groups in a department store Lee captures move independently, but share the collective identity of the consumer.

situation(walk#3)_Oil on Canvas_91×116.7cm_2009

Forced anonymity is often antithetical to ways of humanism or classicism, which raises the value of the individual. The anonymous are constituents of contemporary society, where the myth of autonomy has been shattered, and the deconstruction of subjectivity is frequently discussed, shaping a history without a subject (Pierre Bourdieu). As the universal subject attained in modern times is subordinated to structural order, a human being becomes a medium influenced by invisible power. The enormous shopping center she noted in this exhibition is a forum where the force driving contemporary society affects each individual’s trivial actions. Each shopper moves independently, but undergoes a similar journey. They tirelessly crave for the new, but consume the similar. A strategy to stimulate mass-consumption underlines sameness. Lee's work is to discover the movement of a difference and its traces within this sameness. The figures in her work as the lonely crowd build up their own invisible sphere, breaking down the boundary to contact with the others. A shopping center is a typical spectacle space. Although a spectacle is abbreviated in her work, that becomes an invisible stage curtain leading a situation. At the same time, the shopping center also becomes a daily space. Like the situationists who paid attention to spectacle commodity consumption, the artist sets and rearranges situations to visualize microscopic power infiltrating an individual’s conscious and unconscious. Masses of anonymous people exist in layered, mediated orders, removed from direct experience and communication. Acts of consumption can make people look distinctive, but it can also make them analogous. Lee's paintings have variety and delicate differences, but also the flowing of something homogenous. Homogeneity and heterogeneity are related. Figures in Lee's work do not form communities founded on any traditional values. They remain scattered, and their subjectivity and innate qualities disappear. If they form community, it is close to a negative community; a "community of those who could not shape any community" as Georges Bataille wrote. Here, the I and the others form mere relations and not community.

situation(female#1)_Oil on Canvas_100×200cm_2009

They are merely a majority. In The Confronting Community (La Communaute Affronte), Jean Luc Nancy argued that the term'majority'disperses differences, recalling diversity among individuals, groups, and residents. In this sense, a majority is no longer considered the masses or the crowd. Figures in Lee's work do not form a group or exist as part of the masses. That is why they are the ones that can never be one or an individual. As "beings singular plural"(Jean-Luc Nancy), their existence is with the others, whether positive or not. We can meet these people anywhere, even in the interior. Some figures of Lee's work appeal to momentousness, not continuance; they try to escape from the structures that continuously fix humanity. In his The Unavowable Community, Maurice Blanchot argued the public has this important trait. The public lies within the presence, or absence, or mixture of presence and absence.

situation_Oil on Canvas_ 50x50 cm_2009

There is a static, unmoving presence here; a presence occupying a placeless space – a utopia. With this in mind, 'together'can mean distancing, in the context of closeness and secrecy. It is a word that can feel arid and neutral, without describing union or separation. The figures in Lee’s work contact one another, but their relations are not governed by a common objective. They do not remain as individuals, but are always open to others through encounters, contacts, and meetings with the finite. As Blanchot points out, human experience is by nature openness toward the exterior or The Other. To this, Lee neutrally depicts the impersonality hovering over her daily life. A singular relation is shaped around her, in the space of her work. As the work of art is for all, and each individual, it presents a space for meaningless words. To this, Lee appears anonymous in her work, dispelling any romantic attitude, still pervading art; that is, an attitude to over-enhance oneself, as the central subject of the world. Lee Joung-A depicts anonymous people as limited beings who cannot belong to any specific subjectivity. She highlights the ideal models of human nature, and humanity separated from its role of providing individual specificity. The apocalyptic situations in her work are an outgrowth of her work to expose the familiar in unfamiliar situations. In her work here, the common blends with the unfamiliar.

LEE SUN YOUNG Art Critic

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Posted by EYEBALL_Media Arts Webzine


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