Utopia Or Post-apocalypse? What They Talk About With The Audience Of Lee Bul's Installation
Utopia Or Post-apocalypse? What They Talk About With The Audience Of Lee Bul's Installation
Video: Utopia Or Post-apocalypse? What They Talk About With The Audience Of Lee Bul's Installation
Video: «Утопия Спасенная» Ли Бул / Lee Bul. Utopia Saved 2023, February
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Photo: Vasily Bulanov / Central Exhibition Hall Manezh

The first Russian personal exhibition of Lee Bul "Utopia Saved" has opened in the St. Petersburg Manege. Let's try to understand the universe of the South Korean artist and understand who she really wants to save.

The biographical context when talking about Lee Bul is incredibly important. The artist was born in 1964 in Yeongju province. Then one of the most developed countries today lived in poverty, military dictatorships replaced one another, people were in constant fear of reprisals. Li's mother herself, due to oppositional views, could not find a job, the family often had to move and lead an almost nomadic lifestyle - references to that period can be seen in the large-scale installation Desire to Be Vulnerable, reminiscent of a wandering circus abandoned by the troupe. Next to the tents, a balloon rises on all two floors of the Manege with flashing inscriptions reminiscent of either advertising banners of neon-flooded Seoul or kitsch holiday decorations.The ball itself is completely transparent - an elegant find from the point of view of both aesthetic (every installation wants to be photographed immediately) and meaningful.

Desire to Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016 / 2020. Installation view at the 20th Sydney Biennale, 2016. Photo: Algirdas Bakas. Courtesy of Bartleby Bickle & Meursault, Seoul; Thaddaeus Ropac Galleries, London, Paris and Salzburg; Lehmann Maupin Galleries, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London
Desire to Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016 / 2020. Installation view at the 20th Sydney Biennale, 2016. Photo: Algirdas Bakas. Courtesy of Bartleby Bickle & Meursault, Seoul; Thaddaeus Ropac Galleries, London, Paris and Salzburg; Lehmann Maupin Galleries, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London
Lee Bul
Lee Bul

Photo: Antonio Campanella. Courtesy of the author and Frame Magazine

The feeling of total insecurity and helplessness will subsequently form the basis of many of her works. She was born in difficult and controversial times, and made her debut on the art scene after the "economic miracle" and the fateful 88 Olympics in Seoul, which forever changed the country's image. Skyscrapers rose from ruins, a weak agricultural economy turned into an almost perfect technocracy.

Striving for a better future and at the same time the lack of a basic sense of security and stability give rise to an internal conflict, from which Lee Bul's fantastic installations grow. Anxiety emanates from each. Despite their imposing appearance, they are unstable, hang from the ceiling in clouds of smoke and are ready to burst like a soap bubble. According to the artist, her path in art began with an attempt to comprehend the influence that the cataclysms she experienced in her childhood had on her. The most spectacular installation of the exhibition Through Negation, a mirror labyrinth, invites the viewer to find himself. After passing it, you find yourself in a room filled with light. It's really easy to get lost in it - if you don't panic. The same as in life.

Photo: Vasily Bulanov / Central Exhibition Hall Manezh
Photo: Vasily Bulanov / Central Exhibition Hall Manezh

After graduating from university, Bul was actively engaged in the art of performance. Tied and hung upside down, she told women about the experience of abortion. She pasted crystals over rotting fish in protest against the absurd standards of beauty (Majestic Splendor) - this scandalous work even had to be removed from the exhibition in MoMA due to complaints about the smell. In 1999, Bul became the first South Korean artist to be featured in a main project at the Venice Biennale.

All these years, her interest in the Russian avant-garde did not fade away. Bul, a sculptor by training, is a big fan of Tatlin and the entire generation of avant-garde artists who fantasized about the world of the future, to which, ironically, modern Seoul came closest. The exhibition at the Manege is important for Bul herself for the reason that here, alongside her own works, the works that inspired them are presented. Opposite the gallery with its architectural models is a model of an airplane wing created by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. From Vasily Kuptsov's “Airship” a giant silver airship Bullet “flies out” at the viewer, reminiscent of the crashed Hindenburg.

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Photo: Vasily Bulanov / Central Exhibition Hall Manezh

“Lee Bul's long-standing interest in utopia took on a new dimension in the mid-2000s when she began creating architectural models and drawings inspired by Constructivism and Russian avant-garde art and architecture. Lee Bul uses the symbols and metaphors of utopian modernism, which she transforms, allegorically depicts and connects in her works,”says Sunjun Kim, curator of the Utopia Saved exhibition. It is curious that all of Bul's works were selected for the exposition only after the approval of the list of works, models and drawings that Russian museums were ready to provide. The artist took part in the preparation of the exhibition at all stages, supervised the editing by video link, checking with the model of the "Manege" installed in her studio on the other side of the continent.

Photo: Vasily Bulanov / Central Exhibition Hall Manezh
Photo: Vasily Bulanov / Central Exhibition Hall Manezh

Immediately after Kuptsov and the symmetrical work of Bul in a collage technique new for her - "City of the Sun", a subtle play with two samples of the genre of utopia. A system of mirrors, as if hovering above the floor, leads to a scattering of lights, the reflections of which endlessly multiply, climb onto the wall and throw glare at the ceiling. The title directly refers to the philosophical treatise of Tommaso Campanella and the fantastic project of Ivan Leonidov, a representative of "paper architecture". Buhl's “city” is inspired by personal memories. The idea to create your own utopia was born on an airplane, namely over night Tokyo - a city where the future has long come.

Strictly speaking, Utopia Saved is an oxymoron. How and why to save what is not destined to become reality? This is the humanism of the works of Bul. Show that behind every fantastic idea there is a person, and he is the most valuable and at the same time the most fragile in it.

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