AS ONE OF the first Korean artists to gain exposure abroad following the fall of the country’s military dictatorship, Lee Bul (b. 1964 in Seoul) has been a seminal figure not only in her native Korea, but also in the international fields of performance and installation. Following an important retrospective held for her at the Mori Museum in Tokyo two years ago, a thorough retrospective is presently on view for the first time in Europe at the Mudam in Luxembourg, covering the past 15 years of Lee Bul’s career. Concentrating on this specific period, the show features key creations from her body of work that are dramatically staged in the Mudam’s extraordinary building.
This is especially true for the sculptures of the Cyborg series, which are suspended from the ceiling in the main hall. With their unpredictable biomorphic shapes, the Cyborgs seem all the more to have emerged from a place unknown, as they float in the air under the spectacular architecture of IM Pei’s glass dome.
The piece Diluvium, made of various uneven woodblock panels that the artist has placed on the floor underneath the sculptures, contributes to enhancing the viewer’s experience of disorientation, creating Lee Bul’s own version of a labyrinth. Needless to say, this first section of the exhibition is spectacular since the pieces are presented in an exceptional space and can be viewed from the ground floor level, from the distance, or from the first floor almost as amongst the Cyborgs.
Besides this series, the exhibition presents a variety of steel structures, another important aspect of Lee Bul’s work. Considered sculptures or installations, these structures are representational of the artist’s interest in architecture with the continuous endeavour to anticipate the living needs of humans in a future environment. Combining steel, metal and mirror among others, these pieces follow the path of Utopian living initiated by the architect Bruno Taut (1880-1938). The viewer gets an even better understanding of Lee Bul’s endeavour with the life-size installations Bunker, Souterrain and Via Negativa. By passing through a small tunnel, the viewer can reach Lee Bul’s Via Negativa, a large labyrinth covered with pieces of mirror giving true meaning to the element of reflection – a central notion in the artist’s work.
Another highlight of the exhibition is the reconstruction of the artists’studio. Bringing together drawings, paintings, maquettes and small sculptural studies, the studio section gives the impression of an organised laboratory where an abundance of pieces are conceived. Interestingly, the studio features numerous works on paper, a medium the artist is less known for than her sculptures and installations. Their display – unique as we seldom get to see them reunited in that quantity – emphasises what an excellent draftsman Lee Bul is, a quality perhaps overshadowed by her powerful installations. As the studio is reconstructed on an entire floor, the viewer is immersed in Lee Bul’s universe and gets a clear sense of the artist’s approach and practice.
Throughout the exhibition, the works on view greatly benefit from the generous space devoted to the show, allowing the work to be display in the best possible of conditions. The curators, Marie-Noelle Farcy, Sunjun Ki and Clement Minighetti made intelligent choices as to the selection of the pieces, bringing Lee Bul’s multimedia qualities to the forefront and making it possible for the audience to enter the artist’s challenging universe, a universe bringing together her fears, her disillusions that are ultimately largely overtaken by a positive, dreamlike vision of our future that seems just within reach.
Until 6 June at Mudam, 3 Park Drai Eechelen, 1499 Luxemburg City, www.mudam.lu