이용덕과 조각의 이중부정

김 원 방 (미술평론)

이용덕은 오랜 기간 실제와 그 재현의 문제, 실제가 어떻게 우리의 인식론적 경험으로 구성되는가 하는 문제를 천착해 온 작가이다. 이를 위해 그가 특히 즐겨 쓰는 방법은 음과 양이 도치된 속이 텅빈 네가티브 조각으로서, 이용덕은 이를 감탄스러울 정도로 완벽하고도 매력적으로 완성해내고 있다. 그것은 관객에게 거의 마술에 가까운 환영을 보여주는데, 나는 이러한 환영의 장치가 무엇보다도 좁게는 ‘조각’이 성립하는 토대에 대한, 넓게는 세계와 우리의 관계에 대한 매우 근원적인 반성을 내포하고 있다는 점을 주목하고자 한다.

앞을 보며 경쾌하게 걸어오는 여자, 소파에서 낮잠을 자는 여자, 엎드려 한가로이 편지를 쓰는 여자. 귀여운 계집애들, 십대 청소년들의 농구시합 등… 조각의 소재로서 이 들만큼 편안하고 대중적이며 즐거움을 주는 소재는 흔치 않을 것이다. 하지만 이용덕의 조각들에 점차 가까이 다가 갈 때 관객들을 기다리는 것은 손으로 만질 수 있는 즐거운 조각적 질감과 세부가 아니라, 자신의 인식과 의식의 기반이 와해되는 경험이다. 소녀들의 입체적 이미지들은 마치 실체가 없는 가상현실처럼 관객의 역사적 시간감각을 농락하면서 홀연히 사라져 버린다. 조각 앞에 가까이 다가간 관객의 눈에 최종적으로 주어지는 것은, 일반적인 조각적 양괴가 아니라, 음과 양이 뒤바뀌어 제작된 네가티브 조각의 공허한 구덩이일 뿐이다. 여기서 관객이 받는 느낌은 ‘박탈 당한다’라는 표현이 가장 적절하다. “내가 만지려고 했던 그 소녀의 모습은 알고 보니 아무런 물질적 실체가 없는 ‘구덩이’에 불과했노라”라는 허망함 말이다. 헛 것을 본 것이다. 갑자기 가장 믿었던 모든 것을 빼앗기는 것이다. 빼앗기는 것은 조각이라는 물질적 덩어리 뿐만이 아니다. 그 형상들 ― ‘낮잠자는 소녀’, ‘책 읽는 소녀’ 같은 ― 이 수반하던 주제적 즐거움과 상징적 의미들까지도 함께 증발해 버린다. 결국 그것은 조각이 아니라, ‘조각’과 ‘조각의 박탈’, 이 양자가 하나의 연속체로 절합(articulation)된 것, 일종의 ‘조각-박탈’, ‘조각-증발’, ‘조각-부재’ 와 같은 당혹스러운 이름으로 정의될 수 있을 것이다. 여기서 박탈, 증발, 부재는 단순히 ‘무'(無)가 아니라, 그 ‘현존의 부정’ 또는 ‘현존의 흔적’이라는 상호교차배어법(chiasm)의 구조를 갖고 있는 것이다. 하지만 관객이 이러한 ‘허깨비 조각’으로부터 자신을 해방시키는 것은 용이하지 않다. 아니 불가능하다. 왜냐하면 우리의 시지각적 특성은 적어도 그 네가티브 조각에 코가 닿을 정도로 다가가기 전까지는, 분명 물질적으로 실재하는 입체적 조각으로 지각되고 그렇게  믿게 만드는 마술을 부리기 때문이다. 관객이 이리 저리 몸을 부지런히 옮겨봐도 그것은 분명 ‘거기에 있다’. 결국 전시장에 들어서는 순간부터 우리의 감각과 인식은 그 가짜 조각들이 연출하는 3차원의 허상에 인질이 되기 시작한다.

그것들은 마치 첨단 가상현실장치처럼, 나의 감각을 최대한 깊이 연루시킨다. 어떤 점에서 그런가 하면, 그 허상은 그 구덩이와 나의 공간적 거리, 방향적 위상, 그리고 환영을 이리저리 살펴보는 나의 신체적 운동, 이것들이 서로 밀접히 연관되고 나아가 일체가 됨으로써 비로소 실현되고 나타나는 허상이기 때문이다. 그런 점에서 이용덕의 조각에 대한 체험은 중량을 가진 실제 사물에 대한 지각의 경험이 아니라, ‘음각의 구덩이-전시장의 시공간-나의 신체’, 이 3가지를 가로지르는 모호한 혼성적 지점에서 발생하는 환영이며, 이것이 바로 이용덕의 작품이 지니는 시공간적 위상이라고  정의할 수 있다. 또한 그것은 관객의 시지각적, 신체적 특성이 밀접하게 참여하는 상황이라는 점에서 일종의 ‘생리학적 조각’이라고도 할 수 있다(로잘린드 크라우스는 이러한 특유한 생리학적 시공간을 ‘맥동'[Pulse]의 시공간이라고 부르면서, 기존의 시각중심주의적 관점 속에 가두어진 설명들을 비판한 바 있다). 이러한 상황에서 그러한 허깨비의 환영은 대상과 관객의 주체가 동시에 연루되는 상황이다. 그리고 이용덕의 조각은 더 이상 ‘물질적 대상’을 만들어 제시하거나 사실적인 ‘재현’을 만들어 내는 대신, 관객이 위치한 현존적 시공간을 총체적으로 개입시키고 연속시키는 작업이라고 할 수 있다. 그것은 일종의 가상현실적 ‘몰입'(immersion)의 상황이며, 대상과 주체가 서로를 맞물리는 순간에 발생하는 상호교차적 시공간인 것이다.

이용덕의 작업이 지니는 두번째 독특한 면모는, 그러한 음각조각이 바로 과거에 실물이 있었던 ‘현재적 흔적’ 또는 ‘현장’으로서 작용한다는 점이다. 그것은 실제의 조각을 만들어 내는 대신, ‘실제 조각의 주변공간을 캐스팅해 낸 작업’이라고도 정의될 수 있을 것이다. 이러한 실물이 접한 외부공간을 떠내는, 즉 ‘흔적’을 만들어 내는 작업은 현대미술의 경우, 뒤샹, 브루스 나우먼, 리차드 세라, 레이첼 화이트리드 등의 작가들이 많이 시도한 바 있지만, 이용덕의 방식은 그들과 또 다른 방법을 택하면서도 그러한 흔적의 제문제를 효과적으로 드러낸다.

흔적이란 것은 실물을 이중적으로 타자화시켜 드러내준다. 우선은 그 흔적 자체가 본래의 실물에 대해서는 타자에 해당한다는 점에서 그러하고, 그 다음으로 실물 자신이 현재 속에 타자의 자격으로 존속하고 있다는 점에서 그러하다. 이용덕의 경우, 그 음각의 구덩이 자체는 그에 선행하여 ‘가상적으로 존재 했다’고 추정되는 포지티브한 ‘소녀상’의 외부공간을 물화(物化)시킨 것에 불과하다. 즉 그것은 소녀상이라는 실물의 외부에 있던 타자적 공간으로서, 이것이 현재 속에 지속하는 양상을 띄고 있다. 반면 양각으로 된 실제의 소녀 조각상은 과거 속으로 사라졌지만, ‘부재와 박탈의 흔적’이라는 형식으로 살아 남아서 현재 속의 이질적인 존재로 공존하는 양상을 띄게 된다.  바로 이렇게 이중의 관점에서 타자화되고 이중으로 부정된 형식으로서 대상이 주어진다는 것이다. 결국 이용덕의 음각 조각은 ‘이중의 부정’, 즉 ‘존재 대 무’라는 이분법적 형식이 아니라, ‘존재의 부정 이면서 동시에 무의 부정’이라는 상호교차적 구조로 정의될 수 있다.

과거 속으로 지나간 것, 무의미한 것, 이미 죽은 것이 ‘지금 이곳 현재 속에 살아있다’는 것. 바로 여기에 흔적의 불길한 면모가 존재한다. 죽었지만 죽지 않은 채 현재를 사로 잡고 있는 것이다. 따라서 그것은 죽은 자, 절대적 타자의 목소리를 지금 현재 듣고 있는 상황이 된다. 그것은 바로 현재 이 곳이라는 시공간의 토대를 근본적으로 교란시켜 버린다. 조르쥬 디디-위베르만(Georges Didi-Hubermann)은 바로 그 점 때문에, 실물의 흔적은 곧 재현과 역사 속에 개입된 불편함이며, 일종의 병리적 의미에서 ‘시간적 증상'(time-symptom)이라고 표현한 것이다. 그것은 예술에서의 영구적이고 안정된 재현의 문제를 ‘시간’과 ‘현존화'(presentification)의 문제로 바꾸어 놓는다. 그리고 현재라는 것은 과거의 모든 사건들, 기억들, 언어들이 사라지지 않은채 유령처럼 맴도는 끊임없는 타자화, 생성, 달라짐(differentiation)의 차원임을 감지하게 해준다. 현재라는 것은 완전히 이해불능한 것으로 되고 마는 것이다.

이러한 경로를 통해 이용덕은 실재를 박탈과 좌절로서 보여주게 되는 것이다. 그것은 엄격히 말하면 실재 만의 박탈 혹은 좌절이 아니라,’실재와 나 사이의 관계의 박탈 및 좌절’이라고 표현함이 정확하다. 일반적인 조각에서 성립하는 ‘실재와 나 사이에 시공간적 관계’라는 것은 곧  세계와 나 사이의 분리되고 객관화된 관계를 보장한다. 반면 이용덕의 작업에서 나타나는 허깨비는 존재하지도 그렇다고 부재하지도 않은채, “현재 속에 현존하는 부재”로서, “현재 속의 타자”로서 모호한 시공간을 떠도는 양상을 취한다. 즉 그 허상과 나와의 사이에 객관적 거리는 없어진 채, 앞서 언급한 것처럼 총체적으로 서로 연결된 맥동의 생리학적 공간 속에서 나의 내부로 칩임해 들어오는 양상을 띈다는 것이다. 따라서 이것은 라깡 식으로 표현하자면, ‘나’라는 주체의 견고함과 독립성을 보장해주는 언어적 사유(즉 상징계)를 교란시키고, 그 대신 지속적인 표류, 강박적인 재확인(“내가 지금의 내가 맞는가?”라는 자의식)으로 관객의 의식을 몰고 간다. 그것은 바로 이용덕을 포함해서, 초현실주의 미술과 그리고 마술이 서로 공유하는 특징이요, 충격이다.

결국 관객에게 남는 것은 무한히 표류하는 현재에 대한 순수한 감각, ‘내가 허상을 보고 있음을 다시 바라보는 나’의 대한 과잉된 감각, 허상이 세계의 것인지 나의 것인지 결정할 수 없는 그 모호함에 대한 ‘지나친’ 감각일 뿐이다. 이용덕 자신도 이 지점에서 그가 할 수 있는 유일하고, 정당하고, 필연적인 말 한마디를 던진다. “감각에 집중하라.”Dual Negation of Yong-Deok Lee and his Sculpture  -Kim, Won Bang (Art Critic)

Lee, Yong-Deok is an artist who has been seeking for a long time the problem of the actuality and reproduction, and the problem of how the actuality become composted by experience of our epistemology. For this, he often uses the method of empty recessed negative sculpture, which comprises inverted Yin and Yang (negative and positive) and Lee, Yong-Deok admirably completes it perfectly and charmingly. As these sculptures show the viewers almost magical illusion, I would like to focus on the fact that this illusionary device contains very basic reflection, in micro sense towards the base, where ‘sculpture’ materializes and, in macro sense, towards the relationship between the world and us.

A woman, looking ahead, cheerfully walking down the street; a woman taking a nap on a sofa; a woman lying on her stomach idly writing a letter; sweet girls; teenage boys playing basketball, etc, it is not easy to find as comfortable, public, and joyful sculptural subject matter as such. However, as viewers gradually walk towards Yong-Deok Lee’s sculptures, what awaits them are not joyfully touchable sculptural textures and details, but the experience of one’s perception and consciousness (the core) collapsing. The 3-D images of the girls, like the virtual reality, cajole the viewer’s historical time perception as the images simply vanish in time. When the viewers step up close to the sculpture, instead of facing the common sculptural volume, viewers face the cavity of the negative sculpture created by the inversion of Yin and Yang (positive & negative). The most appropriate description of the viewer’s impression is the ‘deprivation.’ There only remains the vain feeling of “the girl whom I wanted to touch was only a ‘cavity’ with no physical substance.” Viewers saw phantoms. Suddenly, the most relied truth was taken away. Not only physical mass of sculpture was taken away, but also thematic joy and symbolic meaning of such forms – like ‘girl napping’ and ‘girl reading’ – evaporated all together. It is not a sculpture, but his articulated sequence of ‘sculpture’ and ‘deprivation of sculpture.’ It can only be defined as such bewildering terms like ‘sculpture-deprivation,’ ‘sculpture-evaporation,’ and ‘sculpture-absence.’ Such deprivation, evaporation, and absence do not simply mean ‘nothingness,’ but holds the structure of Chiasm in ‘denial of existence’ or ‘trace of existence.’ However, it is not an easy task for a viewer to liberate himself from such ‘phantom sculpture.’ No. It is impossible, because until a viewer moves into the nose-touching distance to the sculpture, his optical perception magically comprehends and believes that the negative sculpture as a physically positive, three-dimensional sculpture. No matter how long the viewer eagerly moves around the sculpture, it definitely ‘is there.’ The moment a viewer enters the exhibition space, his sense and cognition becomes hostage to the three-dimensional ghost image of such fake sculptures.

The sculptures, like up-to-date virtual reality systems, deeply involve the viewer’s senses. The illusion appears only when the viewer’s spacial distance to the cavity, directional phase, and his physical movement in order to see the illusion are collected into a single entity. The experience to Yong-Deok Lee’s sculpture is not the experience of perception to actual matters, but is an illusion, which appears at the vague compositional point where the three components: ‘cavity of negative, time and space of an exhibition hall, one’s physical body’ meet and also it is the temporal-spacial phase, which Yong-Deok’s Lee’s artworks possess. It can also be stated as a ‘physiological sculpture’ because the sight- perceptive and physical characteristic of the viewer is very closely involved in the situation (Rosalind E Krauss called this peculiar physiological time-space as that of ‘Pulse’ and criticized the descriptions that are caged in the existing visual-oriented point of view). In this case, the illusion of ghosts is the simultaneous connection between the object and the viewer’s subject.  Lee, Yong-Deok’s sculpture no longer makes and presents ‘physical object’ or realistic ‘reproduction,’ but, on the whole, involves and continues existing time-space where viewers are situated. It is a situation of virtual realistic ‘immersion’ and is the occurring chiasmatic time-space where the object and the subject are engaged to each other.

The second unique aspect of Lee, Yong-Deok’s works is the negative sculpture’s function as the ‘current traces’ or ‘sites’ of the actual past object’s existence. His works can be defined as ‘work, which casts the surroundings of the sculpture,’ instead of making actual sculptures. Casting the surroundings of the object, same as creating ‘traces,’ were done in contemporary art by various artists such as Duchamp, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, Rachel Whiteread, etc. However, Lee Yong-Deok chooses different methods to cast such surroundings and still exhibits all matters of traces effectively.

The traces make the objects to be appeared as the other in duality. First, the trace itself is the other compared to the original objects. Second, at present time, the actual object itself continues to exist as the other. In Lee, Yong-Deok’s case, the negative cavity is only the transfer of the external space of the positive ‘So Nyu Sang (sculpture of a girl),’ which is presumed to ‘exist hypothetically.’ Therefore, it is the other space that was on the outside of the actual object called ‘So Nyu Sang’ and it continues to exist in the present. Even though the positive sculpture of a girl disappeared into the past, it survived in the form of ‘absence and deprivation’s traces,’ and appeared to exist as the distinctive coexisting entity in the present. From such dual viewpoints, it becomes the other and the subject is given the double negated formality. In the end, Lee Yong-Deok’s negative sculpture is not the dichotomous form of ‘negation of duality,’ ‘existence vs. nonexistence,’ but can be defined as chiasm of ‘negation of existence and simultaneous negation of nonexistence.’

Matters that pass through the past, meaningless matters, dead entities are ‘currently living in the present space’ and here exists an ominous aspect of evidence. The undead, but dead, are holding onto the present. Viewers are currently hearing the voices of the dead, the absolute other. It fundamentally disturbs the current space, the spacial-temporal base. Georges Didi-Hubermann stated that the trace of the actual object is an inconvenience intervened into the reproduction and history, and in kind of a pathological sense, is a ‘time-symptom’. It changes the problem of permanent and stabilizes reproduction in art to the problem of time and ‘presentification.’ The present is a dimension of creation, differentiation, and becoming the other where all events of the past, memories, and languages circle around endlessly like ghosts. It is completely impossible to understand the present.

Through this path, Lee, Yong-Deok shows the actual existence as deprivation and frustration. Strictly speaking, it is not just the deprivation or frustration of actual existence, but it is more correctly expressed as “deprivation and frustration of the relationship between the actual existence and oneself.’ ‘The spacial-temporal connection between the actual existence and oneself’ guarantees the separated and objectified relationship between the world and oneself. The phantom that appears in Lee, Yong-Deok’s work is non-existing but also not absent. As “absence, which exists in present” and as “the other in present,” the ghosts drift within vague time and space. The objective distance between the virtual image and oneself disappear and it invades within interconnected and pulsating physiological spaces. Consequently, describing in the style of Lacan (Jacques Lacan), it disturbs the linguistic speculation (symbol), which guarantees the solidity and independence of the subject ‘I’ and instead, drives the viewer’s awareness towards the continuous drifting and compulsive reconfirmation (self-consciousness like “am I the same me in the present?). Including Yong-Deok Lee, Surrealism and magic holds common characteristics and impacts.

In the end, what is left to the viewer is the pure sense of the present that drifts infinitely. The excessive sense of ‘myself looking at myself viewing the illusion,’ the ‘excessive’ sense towards vagueness that can not be decided if the illusion is that of the world or that of mine. Lee Yong-Deok, at this point speaks one phrase, the only justified and necessary phrase: “concentrate on your sense.

 

 

시간의 이동: 이용덕의 형상화(形象化)

로버트 C. 모건

이용덕의 형상(形象)조각에는 형이상학(形而上學)적 긴장감이 내포되어 있다. 이것은 긍정과 부정, 빛과 그림자, 물질과 비 물질처럼 서로 상반된 두 개념 간에 존재하는 긴장감이라 할 수 있다. 도교(道敎)적 관점에서 보면 이 상반되는 것들은 실제로 동일한 현상의 일부분이고, 동일한 기(氣)의 발현이다. 서양철학에서 형이상학은 아리스토텔레스가 물리학의 논리를 초월하는 현상을 설명하기 위해 선택한 범주(範疇)이다. 현대에서 형이상학은 일순간에 시공(時空)을 무한대로 계산하는 것이고, 아날로그였던 정보를 디지털로 프로그램하여 권위를 부여하는 것이라고 할 수 있다. 형이상학은 사람들의 일상경험에서 우연한 만남의 형태로 나타나는 시간의 돌발사건이다.

21세기의 다른 순수 화가나 순수 조각가들의 작품과 이용덕의 하이브리드 형상조각을 차별화하는 요소는 단순히 형이상학적 만남에 대한 특출한 묘사만은 아니다. 이용덕은 달리고, 점프를 하고, 가까이에 있는 물건을 쳐다보는 어린이들과 같은 평범한 인간의 모습에 환상적인 형태를 부여해서 그 이미지가 관객에게 다가가게 만들고, 이 이미지들의 격렬한 움직임이 주어진 공간에서 독보적인 위치를 차지하도록 만드는 능력을 갖고 있다. 이러한 접근용이성은 친근감의 병적(病的) 원리에 기반을 두고 있다. 남자나 여자, 어린이들이 몸을 움직이거나, 시간과 공간 속에서 돌아다니는 것과 같은 일상적 이미지로부터 사람들은 친근감을 느낀다. 시간의 우주 속에서 바로 “실재(實在)의 유혹”, 즉 시각적으로 끌리는 것들이 일순간 다가온다. 사람들은 이러한 일상의 자극을 친근함과 연결하게 되는 것이다. 그렇지만 이렇게 일상(日常)내에 있으면서도 실제로는 거시적(巨視的) 세계, 즉 인간존재를 사고와 감정의 성운(星雲)으로 확장시키는 시간의 우주와 외부적으로 연결된다.

이용덕이 20 여 년에 걸쳐 왕성하게 내놓은 작품들을 살펴보면 여기에 구현되어 있는 과학, 수학, 직관, 의식, 감수성에 놀라게 된다. 작품의 생동감 있는 인물들은 표면 안으로 들어가기도 하고 표면 밖으로 나오기도 한다. 이용덕의 작품들은 대부분 파이버글래스, 석고와 기타 재료가 포함된 혼합 매체로 제작한 패널 위에서 만들어진다. 작품의 성격에 따라 테라코타, 석고, 나무 등을 이용하기도 한다. 최근 인터뷰에서 작가가 언급한 것처럼, 표면은 항상 출발점이고 위아래로 더해지고 빼진다. 작품 속 형상은 표면에서 튀어나온 양각(陽刻)이나 표면 안으로 파고 들어간 음각(陰刻)으로 만들어진다. 이것은 도덕경 (道德)의 사상에서 나온 존재(存在)와 부재(不在), 그리고 유(有)와 무(無)의 융합을 내포하는 것으로 이용덕의 작품의 핵심 철학이다:

세상 만물은 유(有)에서 태어난다.

그리고 그 유(有)는 무(無)에서 태어난다.

2005년의 한 중요한 인터뷰에서 이용덕은 작품을 구상하고 발전시키면서 거쳤던 철학적이고 영적인 과정을 자세히 언급했다:

“나는 음양의 조합이 고형(固形) 이미지를 표현하는 한 방법이 될 수 있다는 것을 보여주고 싶었다. 이런 관점에서 사물을 관찰하니 세상에 있는 모든 것들이 음양(陰陽)의 조화로 이루어져 있다는 사실을 발견하게 되었다.”

이용덕은 음양의 조화에 대한 인식을 통해 조각이라는 실질적 세계에서 감정의 은유(隱喩)적 세계로 옮겨가게 되고 그의 작품에 등장하는 형상은 시공의 초월을 통한 인간의 일시적 감정에 대한 인식이 되었다.

이용덕이 도덕경을 거론하는 것은 우연스런 일이 전혀 아니며 오히려 의식적이고 의도적인 것이라 할 수 있다. 동일한 인터뷰에서 작가는 대상들을 음각과 양각으로 조각하는 것에 대해 다음과 같이 말했다:

“두 가지 형상의 양각과 음각이 혼합된 3차원 작품은 중심을 향해 압축된다. 따라서 이것은 플러스와 마이너스의 공존(共存)이 된다.”

대상을 조각으로 형상화함에 있어서 균형에 대한 의식은 작가의 작업 과정에서 핵심적인 요소이다. 이용덕은 이것이 형식을 갖추는 데에 필수불가결한 추가성분이라고 생각한다. 형상의 교묘한 조형은 형식적이면서도 다분히 기술적인 과정이다. 이것은 또한 실제적이면서도 시간성의 문제이다. 대상이 제시되는 방법은 도시의 길을 걸어 다니거나 혼자서 휴식을 취하고 있는 대상을 작가가 관찰하는 방법에 따라 전적으로 결정된다. 이용덕은 예리한 심리학적, 현상학적 호기심을 갖고 현실 속의 인물들이 시간이동을 통해 움직임, 지성, 느낌, 영성(靈性) 등이 포함된 ‘관찰된 현실’이라는 에너지의 합성으로 발현될 때까지 대상을 관찰한다.

이용덕은 시간이나 형상의 관계 속에서 작업을 하지만, 그의 부조(浮彫) 작품들은 절대적 강렬함, 시간과 공간 속의 잔재(殘滓)적 존재로서 석조(石造)와 같은 질감을 준다. 시간과 공간은 서로 상대적으로 묶여 있다. 우리가 인간의 몸에서 시간을 느끼는 것은 공간이 인간의 몸을 둘러싸고 있고 인간과의 관계 속에서 존재하기 때문이다. 공간적 연속성이 없으면 시간성도 없어진다. 그의 많은 부조 작품들은 대상의 생동감과 동학(動學)적 움직임을 특별한 공간으로 구현해내는 이용덕의 능력에 힘입어서 탄생되었다. 그의 최근 작품들은 개별 대상들이 공간에서 어떻게 존재하는가에 대한 작가의 관심을 드러낸다는 점에서 독특한 인상을 심어준다.

물론 이것이 이용덕 작품의 유일한 주제는 아니다. 그의 조형적 상상력은 대상을 접하고 영감을 느끼는 한 어느 방향으로든 펼쳐진다. 이는 독특하고 독립적 작가인 그의 경력이 이미 말해주는 사실이다. 그의 유명한 작품인 kl.k.7d.24.10 1920 Berlin (1995)에서 작가는 1차 대전 직후 독일에서 찍힌 사진에서 본 7-8살 되는 소년들을 머리는 석고로 된 33개의 테라코타로 옮겨놓았다. 단순한 시간 이동적 요소 때문이 아니라 한 줄로 서 있는 소년들의 통일된 모습이 주는 어떤 심리적 긴장감이 뇌리에서 떠나지 않을 정도로 강한 호소력을 지닌 작품이다. 이 형상화에는 살아있는 감각이 있다. 작가는 베를린의 벼룩시장에서 이 사진을 보았을 때의 느낌을 묘사하고 있다. 소년들의 이미지가 시간의 창(窓)을 통해 작가를 이동시켰고, 작가는 사진 촬영 당시의 소년들과 연결된 것이다. 이 작품에서처럼 개별 대상들이 줄서 있는 모습으로 조각을 구현하는 데에서 드러나는 힘과 결단력은 이용덕의 현재 작품에까지 이어진다고 할 수 있다.

‘이동’이라는 주제는 이용덕의 작품 세계에서 흥미진진하고도 중요한 단면이다. 예를 들어 개별인물들을 다룬 그의 최근 작품에서 3차원적 부조들은 사진에서 나타나는 포지티브와 네거티브의 관계로 비교해볼 수 있다. 포괄적인 의미에서 사진도 이동 과정이라고 볼 수 있다. 시간과 공간 속의 시각 세계에서 인상(印象)이 추출된 뒤 이미지로 이동한다. 문자메시지가 두 사람 간에 실제 인사를 주고받는 것의 추상으로 기능하는 것과 마찬가지로 이 과정은 일종의 추상적 의식(儀式)으로서 기능한다. 인상(印象)은 기술적이거나 다른 적절한 수단들을 통해 의식(儀式)의 공간으로부터 이동해서 자신의 공간과 인상적 대상을 새로이 확립한다. 이 의식(儀式)을 행하는 과정에서 작가는 창조과정에서 나타나는 유동적 자각(自覺)상태를 향해 의도적으로 움직여간다.

이용덕의 조각품들은 관찰대상을 3차원의 형상물로 변환시켜 미리 볼 수 있는 작가적 상상력의 산물이다. 인터뷰에서 이용덕은 “내가 네거티브를 암시하면 관객들은 포지티브로 반응한다”고 말한다. 형상이 디지털 이동을 통해 가상현실로 구현되는 “시간이동현상”을 미술로 보는 작가의 미술관과 직접적으로 연결되는 부분이다. 이와 관련하여 작가는 다음과 같이 말한다:

“내가 구사하는 언어에서 이중부정은 강력한 긍정이다. 여기에서 부재(不在)와 부정(否定)은 다른 의미를 갖고 있다. 둘 다 독자적으로는 존재할 수 없으며, 반대 입장, 즉 대척점(對蹠點)이 있어야만 한다. 이중부정은 같은 부정을 두 번 하는 것이 아니라, 같은 입장을 반복하는 것이다.”

길거리에 사진이 찍히는 사람을 보게 되는 정확한 순간과, 실제의 시간과 공간에서 디지털 프린트로 변형되고, 양각의 3차원 이미지가 만들어지고, 음각의 형판(型板)이 만들어지고, 양각의 조형물로 태어나는 과정 간에는 일종의 전기적 순환이 있다. 예술가가 이러한 형상화 과정을 통해 여러 형태의 확실성을 추구하고 있다고 말할 수도 있다. 그러나 작가는 동시에 지각(知覺)에 대해 회의를 표현한다:

“내가 보는 것은 사실인가? 내 촉각을 통해 느끼고 있는 것은 사실인가? 내가 지각할 수 있는 것은 사실인가?”

이용덕의 관점에서 확실성은 완전히 확실한 것이 절대 아니다. 그렇지만, 작가가 출발점으로 받아들이게 된 몇 가지 기본전제들이 있으며, 그 중 하나는 모든 사람들이 시간과 공간 내에서 존재할 수밖에 없다는 사실에 대한 인정이다. 시간이 대상과 연관되어 흘러가면서 관객들은 이동의 의식(儀式) – 이용덕은 이를 “이동축”이라고 표현한다 – 을 이해하게 된다. 과거가 환상의 순간으로, 구체적인 현실로, 또 현존(現存)과 부존(不存)이 공존하는 형이상학으로 변형되는 것이다. 지각자(知覺者)로부터 실제로 지각되는 것으로, 즉, 피지각물(被知覺物)로 이동하는 과정에서 존재의 현실은 또 다른 차원의 이해로 나타난다. 이용덕에게 있어서 이 과정의 목표는 “부재(不在)를 통해 [인간 형태의] 존재를 깨닫는 것”이다. 노자(老者)의 세계에서는 다음과 같이 표현된다:

우리는 존재(存在)로 일한다.

그러나 부재(不在)가 우리가 사용하는 것이다.

지각(知覺)에 대한 의식은 개인들이 마음속에 지각한 의도적 대상을 파악하는 능력, 즉 이를 붙잡거나 정지시킬 수 있는 능력에 전적으로 달려 있다. 철학자 에드문트 후썰(Edmund Husserl)은 지각이 아이디어가 되도록 환원을 통해 제한시키는 현상학적 방법을 고안했다. 이것은 지각되는 과정에 있는 사물 혹은 인간의 본질(eidos)을 추상하는 것이다. 예를 들어, 이용덕이 만들어내는 인물상들은 감각에 대한 일종의 초(超)감각적 호소를 통해 구현된다. 이를 느낀다는 것은 존재가 실재(實在)가 되고 그 존재적 기능을 인정하게 되는 지각과정에 기반을 둔 아이디어를 갖는 것이다. 이용덕은 “일반인들의 삶이 내 작품의 중심이며 이들은 항상 혹독한 단절이라는 형태로 되어 있다”고 말한다. 그들이 지닌 형태의 통일성은 이중성의 환상, 혹은 지각자와 피지각물을 분리시키는 서양 사상에 의해 도전을 받고 있다. 이 난제(難題)를 인정하면서 이용덕은 “종종 한 사람이 움직이는 것을 관찰할 때에 단순히 그의 행동에 관심을 국한시키지 말고 그가 ‘누구’인지 그가 ‘무엇’을 표현하려고 하는지에 중점을 두어야 한다”고 설명한다.

이용덕의 작품에는 깜짝 놀랄 만한 개방성이 있다. 그의 조각상들은 특유의 동양적 시각에서 시간과 존재의 매우 복잡한 변형들을 표현하는 ‘표현적 간격(expressive intervals)’을 보여준다. 음 공간과 공허(空虛)에 대한 강조는 도덕경의 가르침이나 불교사상의 측면을 보여준다. 동시에 이용덕은 사람, 일, 특히 어린이들과 같이 활달한 일상 대상들의 묘사를 통해 일종의 순수함을 드러내고자 한다. 실제로 가장 어린이같이 보이는 것이 종종 가장 복잡하게 보인다. 따라서 이용덕은 부조(浮彫)에서 음 공간과 양 공간이 단순히 시각적 환영을 만들어내는 형식적 도구가 아니라는 것을 이해하면서, 부재를 통한 존재, 부정의 옷을 통해 보이는 긍정이라는 구조를 찾아나가고 있다. 또 그에게 있어서 음에서 양으로, 또 양에서 음으로의 이동은 기(氣)와 삶을 긍정하는 도(道)의 근저(根底)에 도달하는 것이다.

이용덕은 2005년 그림자의 깊이(Depth of Shadow) 전시도록에서 시간이동의 개념을 다음과 같이 자세히 설명하고 있다:

“시간이동에서 가장 중요한 점은 단절(斷切)을 통해야만 한다는 사실이다. 시간이 흘러가거나 변하는 것이 아니라, 다른 시간대로 이동하는 것이다. 따라서 이것은 아날로그적 변화가 아니라 디지털적 변화이다. 디지털적 단절의 원리를 갖고 있기 때문이다. 디지털적 시간과 공간은 실재(實在)와 다르다. 이것은 존재라고 불리는 실재(實在)를 해체한 후 재조립한 이미지이다. 이 실재의 이미지를 창조하는 것이 디지털화한다는 의미이다. 인간의 마음은 이러한 방식으로 작동한다.”

이용덕의 파이버글래스 부조(浮彫)작품에서 느껴지는 현혹적인 단순함이나 아이같은 순진함은 이러한 시간이동의 중량을 제대로 담고 있다. 그의 기본전제는 창조 과정이 항상 특정한 초점 – 이용덕의 경우에는 인체의 이미지- 을 요하는 시간의 연습이라는 것이다. 따라서 그의 작품에서 이중부정은 작품 속의 인물이 시각적 착각을 불러일으키는 평면적 공허, 즉 음(陰)의 공간에 거주한다는 의식에 기인하는 것으로 볼 수 있다. 형상이 볼록하건 오목하건 간에, 여기에는 끊임없는 깊이가 있다. 지각자(知覺者)의 시선이 인체에만 머무르든, 부조의 주변을 어른거리든 상관없이, 작품을 눈으로 보는 것은 음(陰)적인 과정이다. 공허 속에서 양(陽)적 에너지를 찾고, 진공을 통해 발산되는 자연의 영원한 생명력을 추구하는 것이다.

The Transportation of Time:

Figurations by Lee Yong Deok

Robert C. Morgan

There is a clear metaphysical tension in the figurative sculpture of Lee Yong Deok.  It may be seen as the tension between opposites — between the positive and the negative, between light and shadow, between materiality and dematerialization.  From a Taoist point of view, these opposites are really all part of the same phenomenon, the same manifestation of a single energy (qi).  However, in Western philosophy, metaphysics is the category Aristotle chose to describe those phenomena that somehow transcend the logic of physics. Today metaphysics could be described through the infinite computation of time and space at any relative instant, the programming of megabytes in such a way that information assumes authority over its analog predecessors.  Metaphysics is the happenstance of time in the form of a chance encounter within the realm on everyday human experience.  What sets the hybrid sculptural figurations of Lee Yong Deok apart from other pure painters and pure sculptors in the twenty-first century is not only his ineffable grasp of the metaphysical encounter in his work, but his ability to give the ordinary human presence – such as children running, jumping, or observing something at a close distance — an illusionist form whereby their images become accessible and their intensified movements occupy a solitary position within the space of the frame.  This accessibility relies on the pneumonic principle of the familiar – everyday images of men, women, and children maneuvering their bodies or propelling themselves through time and space.  It is the instant that is caught within the universe of time that carries a visual appeal, what might be called a seduction of the real.  The viewer relates to the familiar everyday impulse of life, and yet within the everyday there is the external connection to the macro-body, the universe of time that extends the presence of the human being into a galaxy of thought and feeling.

In reviewing his prolific body of work of more than two decades, one maybe struck by the science, the mathematics, the intuition, the awareness, and sensitivity that goes into these works.  His animated figures move in and out from the surface.  For the most part, they are created on panels, using mixed media, which include Fiberglas, gypsum, and other elements.  Occasionally he will work with terra cotta, plaster, and wood, depending on the concept and on what the work requires.  As Lee described his work in a recent interview, the surface is always at point zero with the plus and minus at either end.  The figure either protrudes from the surface or is receded into the surface to become a negative space.  This implies that the conflation of existence with non-existence, of being with non-being, as expressed in the Tao Te Ching, which is a central philosophical concern in his work:

All things are born of being.

Being is born of non-being.

In an important interview from 2005, Lee speaks in detail about his philosophical and spiritual processes while conceiving and developing his work. He asserts the following:   “I wanted to demonstrate that the mix of yin and yang could be a way of presenting a solid image. Then, when I observe things in light of this, I find out that everything in the world was formed in the harmony of yin and yang.”  It is through the yin-yang recognition of balance that Lee moves from the world of practicality to the metaphorical universe of feeling, where the figure becomes a recognition of the human impulse through the transcendence of time and space.

Lee’s reference to the Tao Te Ching is not at all accidental, but quite conscious and deliberate. In the same interview he speaks about carving into the forms, that is, carving figures in negative as well as positive space:

“The three-dimensional work of the yin carving and the yang carving of the two characters is compressed towards the center, so it is the coexistence of the status of the plus and minus.”   The sense of balance in carving the figure is an essential element in the artist’s diurnal work process.  He thinks in terms of time as the necessary added ingredient to form.  The manipulation of the figurative form is as much a technical process as it is a formal one.  It is as much about temporality as it is about practicality.  The way a figure is presented has everything to with the way he observes his subjects walk down sidewalks along city streets or relax in their solitude.  With a keen psychological and phenomenological intrigue, Lee observes people in real life until they become a composite of energy through the transference of time to another level of observed reality – a reality that includes movement, intelligence, feeling, and spirituality.

While Professor Lee works in relation to time and the figure, one might say that his sculptural reliefs have a stone-like quality in their absolute intensity, in their residual presence within time and space.  Time and space are relatively bound to one another.  One senses time in the body of a human figure because space exists around it and in relation to it.  If there is no spatial continuity there is no temporality.  Much has been made of Lee’s ability to represent the animation and kinesthetic motion of figures in singular spaces.  Much of his recent work gives this distinct impression, namely, that he is interested in how the singular figure resides in space. 

This, of course, is not his only theme. His history as a singular, independent artist suggests that his figurative imaginary can go in any direction where he feels inspiration and contact with the subject matter.  There are works such as his famous kl.k.7d.24.10.  1920 Berlin (1995) in which a class of young boys, aged 7 or 8, first seen by the artist in an old photograph, taken just after the First World War in Germany, and later transferred into 33 terracotta bodies with heads cast in plaster.  This is a haunting and compelling work – not only because of the transference of time, but also because of the uniformity by which these boys assume a certain psychological intensity in the way they exist all lined up together.  There is a living sense about these figurations.  The artist described how he felt when he saw the photograph in a flea market in Berlin.  The image of these young boys carried him through the window of time where he was connecting with them at the time the photograph was taken.  In some way, his sculptural manifestation of this row of singular figures suggests a power and decisiveness about Lee Yong Deok’s work that carries into the present.

The issue of transference in Lee’s work is an interesting and important facet of his art.  One could compare his three-dimensional relief sculpture – as, for example, in his recent solitary figures – as having a direct relationship to the positive and negative aspects of photography. Photography, in the most generic sense, is a transference process. An impression is taken from the visible world of time and space, and transferred to an image.  This process may function as a kind of abstract ritual in the same sense that a text-message may function as an abstraction of a genuine greeting between two people; thus, the impression moves from the space of ritual, through a technical or appropriated means, to establish its own space, its own impressionistic referent.  In performing the ritual, the intention of the artist moves toward a state of fluid consciousness in the creative process.

Lee Yong Deok’s figures are a correspondence between the artist’s imagination, a process of envisioning the observed figure transformed into three-dimensional figurations.  In the interview, Lee confesses: “I realized that once I hinted at a negative, the audience would react positively …”  Here the artist refers directly to his idea of art as a “time transportation phenomenon” where the figures become a manifestation of a virtual reality facilitated by digital transport or transference. He says: “In my language, a double denial [negative] is an emphasized confirmation. Here, nonexistence and negation have different meanings; they cannot exist by themselves without an opposite position. That is to say that a double denial is not using the same denial twice, but using the same position.”  So there is a kind of electrical circuitry going on between the precise moment of observation of someone photographed on the street and then transformed from to a digital print to a positive 3-D image to a negative mould to a positive casting observed in real time and space.  One might say that the artist seeks various forms of certainty through his figurations. But then he also expresses an aura of doubt in terms of their perception:

Is what I see a fact?

Is what I am feeling through my sense of touch

indeed fact?

Is what I am able to perceive indeed fact?

From Lee’s perspective, certainty is never entirely certain.  Even so, there are some basic assumptions that he has learned to accept as a starting

point, such as acknowledging that all human beings are bound to exist in time and space. As time evolves in relation to the body, the viewer may become aware of the ritual of transference, or what Lee calls “the axis of transfer,” in which past time is transformed into an illusory moment, a concrete reality, and metaphysics where presence and absence operate simultaneously.  In the process of transference from the perceiver to what is actually perceived the reality of existence takes on another level of understanding.  For Lee, the goal of this process is “to realize the existence [of the human form] through non-existence, or, in the world of Lao-tse:

We work with being,

but non-being is what we use.

The consciousness of perception is entirely dependent on one’s ability to conceive, that is, to hold or suspend, the intentional object of what one has perceived within the mind. The philosopher Edmund Husserl formulated a phenomenological means by which perception is contained by way of reduction in order to become an idea. This idea is an abstraction, the essence (eidos) of the thing or the person that is in the process of being perceived.

For example, the personages of Lee Yong Deok are realized through a kind of transensory appeal to the senses.  To feel them is to have an idea originally founded on the process of perception where their existence becomes real and where we recognize their existential function.  According to Lee:  “The life of ordinary people is the center of my works, and they are always in the shape of harsh disconnections.”   The shape of their unity is being challenged by the illusion of dualities, by the Western idea of separating the perceiver and the perceived.  In recognizing this conundrum, Lee explains: “Sometimes when you look at a person in action, you should not be confined by his behavior, but should focus on ‘who’ he is and ‘what’ he is trying to present.”

There is a certain openness in the work of Lee Yong Deok that is finally quite astonishing.  His sculpted personages hold expressive intervals that express very complexes variations about time and existence, but from a distinctly Eastern perspective.  The emphasize on negative space and on emptiness are part of the teaching of the Tao Te Ching and of aspects of Buddhist thought as well.  At the same time, Lee understands his playful quotidian figures of men, work, and especially children, as portraying a certain kind of innocence.  What often appears as most childlike, in fact, may appear most complex.  Thus, Lee is searching for the structure of being through non-being, of what is positive through the shroud of negativity, understanding that positive and negative space in a sculptural relief is not merely a formal device for creating an optical illusion.  Rather the transference from positive to negative, and conversely, from negative to positive, gets to the energy (qi) and to the basis of the life-affirming Tao.

There is a passage found in Professor Lee’s Depth of Shadow catalog (2005) where the artist elucidates on his concept of the transportation of time:  “An important point in the transportation of time is that it has to  go through a severance.  This does not mean that time flows or changes, but that it shifts to another time period.  Thus it is not an analogical but a digital

Change.  This is because it has the principle of digital severance. Digital time and space are different from reality.  Actually, it is an image that is made by breaking down and then [re]assembling a reality called existence.  The creation of an image of this reality means digitizing it.  This is the way the human mind works.”

The deceiving simplicity or childlike innocence in viewing Lee’s projected Fiberglas reliefs carries the full weight of this transportation of time.  His premise is that the creative process is always an exercise in time that requires a specific focus, in his case, an image of the body.  Therefore, the double negative in his work may be attributed to the sense that the figure inhabits a negative space, a planar emptiness that carries an illusory quality.

Whether the forms are convex or concave, there is a persistent depth to these forms.  Whether the eye of the perceiver goes within the human form or around the projected relief, the optical survey is nonetheless a negative process in the sense of searching for the positive energy within emptiness, the perennial life-force of nature emanating through the void.

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NOTES:  The quotations from Lee, Yong Deok included in this essay are taken from two sources:  Depth of Shadow, published in conjunction with

the artist’s major exhibition at the National Art Museum of China and the PYO Gallery in 2005, and “Behind the Shadow: Lee, Yong Deok in Conversation with Biljana Ciric,” an undated interview (translated by Shui Jitian and edited by Ali Raleigh Cornell).  The quotations from the Tao Te Ching are taken from the English translation by Stephen Mitchell, published by Harper Collins, 1988.

___________________________________________________________

Robert C. Morgan, Ph.D. is an international art critic, artist and curator.

In 2005, he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship as a senior scholar to research traditional culture as a source for contemporary Korean art.  His book, Art into Ideas (1996), first published by Cambridge University Press, was translated into Korean and published by JRM in Seoul (2007).

 

 

The Story of Inverted Existence

Kate Lim

The Young Lee Yong Deok

 

Before I embark on exploring Lee’s works and philosophies, it might be worthwhile to go back all the way to the time when a burst of art scenes started off in Korea, and reflect upon what sort of social and historical background are germane to Lee’s artistic expression. The exact year in question may be variable according to different professional views, but, the time that I would like to highlight for my purpose falls infallibly on the junction when the Monochrome movement was waning whereas figurative art in the middle of 1980s in Korea was resurging. Artist Lee Yong Deok, at that time, before he went off to Berlin, participated in the group exhibition, titled Present-Image, for a few successive years, as one of the youngest members. There were 30-odd number of artists featured in the exhibition, and all of them were fairly well aware that their art belonged neither here nor there: that is, outcast from the then-mainstream and being reluctant to jump into the Minjung Art wagon. Lee recalled in a recent interview,

“When I went over to the café to meet up the other artists before the show, I realized that each of us was a loner, not belonging to any of the prevailing art groups, and I was rather glad to be able to share mutual concerns and interest with them; we were together in our own elements… ‘Reality & Speech’ was exerting a great deal of influence among young artists, whose creative zeal could not be contained within the boundary that the abstract art had imposed and imparted its dogmatized ideas. People felt stifled and had been seeking for an alternative. Minjung Art camp, contrary to the abstract art camp, took as their main agenda to engaging with the social, political issues. For them, art should not be put somewhere else aloft, keeping its purity intact as that of the abstraction; artists ought to come down to the life of ordinary people, to be connected and to be relevant to the reality.”

It seems that Young Lee Yong Deok must have shared the same resistance against the mainstream art trend as Minjung camp. Korea was in the throes of political trauma under military dictatorship then, and not a single intellectual could have been free from a calling to confront the social unrest and the angst of fellow citizens. However, despite the sympathy and the approval of the political agenda of the Minjung group, Lee did not join the camp. The reason was,

“I could not accept what was lacking in Mingjung art. They sacrificed the artistic technique for their political aims; coarse and crude but with the absolute urgency for Minjung-orientated contents. That was, I felt, a regression. I could not square their so-called valued contents with what I fathomed as the essence of art… I did not want to look at the only crust of the society. I knew that it is charred with conflicts, but I wanted to look beyond that.”

This comment sheds light on the contents of the alternative artistic vision of that critical period. It was conceived and formed as opposed to two different movements. The edge of the iconoclastic note had to be padded: therefore, the mandarin nature of modernism was consciously guarded against, but the  impeccable execution and sophistication hovered on, so as to distinguish itself from the crude draughtsmanship of Minjung art; also, the contents should be philosophical rather than indexical. I can imagine that these must have been the rudiments of the third art trend, which the participating artists of Present-Image might have vaguely shared among themselves. The exhibitors including Lee were the first badge of artists who heralded the postmodern practice that was incubated in and emerged from the local climate, a few years before the term ‘postmodern’ with its foreign gilded aura landed in Korea. Their initiative was to develop into the full bloom in the next decade or so, feeding the contemporary audience to satiety due to such a brilliant variety. Some of the Present- Image exhibitors perished into obscurity, others just took up the teaching jobs, and some remained in silence as if fossilized in spite of their initial brilliance. The surge of the next younger generation with their skein of sensibility, already saturated with the postmodern element, gave a nonchalant push to those who sat precariously on the margin of the changing time. Only a few of them, including Lee, were to confirm their authentic presence in the explosive art scene of Korea.         

What was at stake to young Lee Yong Deok at the time, was existence (or ‘being’) and its essence, and the limit that existence faces; all the existential ponderings with the touch of traditional influences. It is interesting that his existential sensitivity did not really develop into Sartre’s Engagement, and he was more inclined to the holistic view towards the solution of the problems; one can either struggle against the existential limit, or keep detached from it, so the limit can be shifted inside of a being. Another issue that urgently occupied Lee’s mind, was how to engage with contradictions; how to deal with the paradoxical relation of one to another. Lee’s nascent interest in the positive and the negative, and its potential artistic value were both developed during such youthful contemplations. Lee left for Berlin in 1991, not knowing how all this inheritance shall coalesce into his genuine language.

Strawberry Fields Forever 

On a sojourn to explore Lee’s art and ideas, there is one earlier work worth observing, as it fermented Lee’s vocabulary, and manifested in the successive inverted sculptural reliefs. This particular work, kl. k. 7d. 24. 10. 1920 Berlin(1995), is the 33 terra cotta boys. Each of the boys’ heads was cast in plaster. The 33 pieces were exhibited at the Invitation Exhibition of the Berlin municipal art centre, Schulmuseum. Lee explained that in the autumn of 1994, he had found in a flea market in Berlin, an old photo of 33 boys, taken in 1920 just after the First World War in Germany. It was a class photo of first graders in an elementary school, and on the back of the photo, there written were the last names of all the boys. There is something eerie about these 33 boy figures standing in a row. Maybe it is because, as Andrea Pupe observed,

“33 boys who have their uniform tops buttoned up to the neck, enter, and stand like fossils in the empty place, …by coming out to the world this way, the small characters left the 1920s and time-travelled to the present”.

Viewers are made to feel as if the existence of these 33 boys from the past has touched them. Their uniformed terra cotta bodies are but a foil to all the different expressions on the boys’ faces. It seems that Lee passionately and intensively concentrated his imagination in envisaging each little boy’s hearts. And yet, without the intrusion of some flaunting, excessive figuration, the work quite tenderly exudes mist of uncertain anxiousness that cannot be spoken in words. What arrests the viewers is not an enchanting copy par excellence; it is more the phantom-like presence of the boys from the photo. Viewers are made to confront; through the German boys’ figuration, this phantom image persistently intervenes and encroaches upon the realm of their perception. Lee said in the  interview with Biljana Ciric, curator of Shanghai Doulan Museum of Modern Art in 2005:

CIRIC: One of your most important pieces at that time was done based upon the photo from the 1920. You talked about the sense of human existence somewhere in your statement.

LEE: I was so taken in by it (the photo) , as if it were a void vacuum. The boys looked so fragile and downcast. The picture was not taken long after the end of the war. Shadows of unrest and depravity were hanging over them. I could imagine these boys going through the relentless upheaval of the Second World War, dying or surviving. What could have happened to them? I made each boy’s head by carefully thinking about them one by one. I got obsessed by all the possible situations the children might have gone through. I could not tear my eyes off their images. My sculpture tore open a window for the time in the shuttered silence, and within its present form of mass, it preserved time lived and forgotten, and thus made the time occupy the present space .

It is apparent that Lee’s sensitive membrane was seriously disturbed by the contact with the quintessential elements of photo: image and text. Images of 33 school boys surged up in him with such a compelling power that he just had to respond to this constellation of private feelings, compulsions, social and historical contents, and call upon his imagination. What Lee wanted to represent was a plethora of associations, memories, connotations about what it would be like for 7-year-old boys to sit in front of the camera not knowing their destiny; to grow up only to be swallowed into another war, surviving or dying, or wretchedly amputated, ending their lives in obscurity. Lee Yong Deok wanted to resuscitate this photographic death by transferring it to his sculpture. Although there still retains a classical chord of sculpturing in Lee’s works (the ‘time that is spatially arrested’), the temporal operation of German boys is multiple: it restores the obvious past when the photo was taken, and it also reaches out to the boys’ future, enfolding the translucent past, and finally reveals the artist’s own present. Lee’s experience with the old photo reminds us of Barthes’ punctum, which he discussed as the concept regarding a photograph, different from studium. The image of the boys in the photo pierced the dry, frozen surface of the photo, and provoked Lee’s desire for summoning an implicit time past to something visually perceivable. Lee’s work, incorporating the notion of punctum, shifts the ground towards the ‘within’. From the trenchant renderings of the visual essence (of the objects), more room for unspoken virtualities are permitted and a wider net, the edge of which is rather obtuse, is spread. The intensity is still there, and yet it does not seem to come from the out-bounding exposure. On the contrary, it sharpens its presence against our introversive aim for the beyond. Lee has transformed Barthes’ punctum, into a sculpture. The emotional loss that was invoked by the photographic capture was re-established into the work of volume. What the volume represents is the pale trace of time that was witnessed, its last drop just before it was engulfed into forgotten regions. Here, I find poignancy. The artist retrieves the remnants of what has been thinned out in time: to find that his haul is in the form of ashen vestiges.         

What Lee saw and felt at the sight of German boys, might have been a confluence of different genres or methods at the conceptual level. Or it could have been a paradoxically pallid trace of the thumping weight of human experiences ravaged and swept by war.  Or his gaze may have dropped at a juncture between the gusty intake of the scars, such as in Anselm Kiefer’s works, its currency drying up, and its vast still pool of murmuring meanings. The photograph of 33 German boys struck a fatal plangency, and there was a note of suspension and brooding within the work: behind which it is waiting to be led into a new life.

Lee’s idioms on the negative casting

What made Lee Yong Deok’s name resonate across the globe was his inverted sculptures in relief-style. His negative figures on the sculpture are trapped in mid-motion, tinged with solitariness, and they all have such a detached ambience that they somehow disentangle their self-consciousness from the observer’s scrutiny; a girl walking with her hair gorgeously tousled by the breeze, a man with both hands thrust into his coat pockets, and his solid figure mantled in the folds of the coat; these are images of people that are ubiquitous all around us. It feels like you are seeing images of Lee’s figures flash through familiar memories and even glimpses of your own memories. The familiarity of the images is probably what makes Lee’s sculpture subject to instant attention from viewers. To resist the legibility and their affable simplicity is almost as difficult as trying to decipher a very complicated image. They linger in your mind just like still-images of a film. One can make statements on Lee’s figures with no qualms about its untenable paradox: “oh, I feel that I have seen them somewhere before, and I know that it only exists in my mind or in a film, but I presume it could exist.” As if gratified by this unassuming candour, Lee’s works present an ingenious sculpting technique to the viewers; in order to retain the image to your visual delight, you should keep it tantalizingly out of reach. If you approach close enough towards the figures, they cave in like a crater, becoming seemingly meaningless, as they are now simply ‘left over’ traces: the images disappear, leaving you with a sudden sense of loss. You cannot retrieve the image without keeping a certain distance away from the piece. It has a structure that is destroyed by proximity.   

Lee’s negative figures residing in, or rather, existing on the mode of, the negative space have a whimsical resemblance to photographic representation, in terms of the play of light and shadow: the casting as the ‘negative’ film and the ‘positive’ appearance as the developed photo.  But in fact, Lee’s own concept using negative space has developed over the years, under the chains of much philosophical thinking, and these principal ideas accentuate what appears as the prowess of his negative figures. In charting Lee’s interest in the notion of negative casting within the contemporary art scene, there are also other artists far afield who experiment and explore similar concepts about negative casting, such as Rachel Whitread or Bruce Nauman. The common ground which all of them share in exploring negative casting would probably be of subverting ideas: the spirit will not ensconce itself on the hearth rug near the warm fire, and does not seeks for the milk of the Obvious. However, one cannot help noticing that Lee and other artists diverge in their ultimate artistic bent, despite the fact that they employ similar formula on the positive and negative. For instance, to Rachel Whiteread, the negative space is the inside of, thus, forgotten side of positive substance. She gives a form to negative space; intangible space transforms to palpable mass. Her work ‘Ghost’(1990)  is a large plaster cast of the inside of a Victorian house. It shows traces, or indeed, ‘the residue of years and years of use, on patches of wallpaper and specks of paint on the walls. Rachel Whiteread expanded her motif with the monumental work, ‘House’ (1993), in which she casted a whole house that had been scheduled for demolition. In her work, ‘House’, all the features of   a typical house are shown inside out: fireplaces bulge out and doorknobs  recedes inwards, hollow. Whiteread’s negative casting gives a presence to the unrecognized void, and restores meanings and ideas that were embedded in negative space. Her sculpture elevates unfelt and neglected side to something architectural; her negative turned into another positive entity. This transformation into discrete entity is probably one of the most arresting features in Whiteread’s negative works.

This new life as a positive substance is definitely a ‘noun’, and this feature is the component I feel that ascribes to the main difference between Lee and Whiteread. Lee’s negative, on the other hand, is better akin to an ‘adjective’.  It is used to elaborate on an idea, the infra-mince, or ‘infra-thin’. Marcel Duchamp says that the notion, “‘infra-thin’ is always an adjective, never a noun, so that it can never exist as a thing in its own… Infra-thin then points to a condition of liminality, that is, something on the threshold (between inside and outside, for example); the interface between two types of thing (smoke and mouth); a gap or shift that is virtually imperceptible but absolute; a separation or passage from one state or condition or dimension to another”. Duchamp’s infra-thin refers to the attributes that cannot be classified as something discrete and separate. There is a similar ring to Lee’s negative figures. The negative castings are the traces left from the original, so they retain the prints of the original, but they are not exactly the original. The negative traces imply transference, and the change happening at both sides.          

The quintessential experience of Lee’s inverted sculptures is, in fact, a play upon one of our most sacred doubts and affirmation – it stirs up the serene surface where underneath it are heterogeneous ontological orders. Like unsettling the quiet dust upon the mantelpiece, only when a gliding swallow, all of a sudden, touches the equanimity of water, before it sails back up into the air, do we catch a glimpse of the submerged Is. What makes us experience such a moment, is the ‘distance’ in his work; by keeping a certain, optimal distance from the negative figures, can they incarnate into forms and flesh, awakening our perception. This physical distance between his work and beholders has a strange attribute; this aesthetical distance elicits a perceptual response with its rebellious desire to break the distance; viewers are bound to break the distance, because they want to know, and what happens next is a kind of madness without method. When the viewers take a few steps closer than the optimal aesthetical distance, now, there is no sign of the object that the viewer believed he has seen; what is left is a disturbing denial in the negative shell.

The moment of the form being formed and its subsequent dissolution into visual negation.

His work hovers over that intersection, never celebrating one fixed moment. This evokes a musical beat, as images pulsate to and fro between different moments. It is as if Minimalist music resides inside Lee’s negative; the crisp projection of flitting images followed by its sombre defamiliarization. It is in the format of negative casting that I find several tributaries of Lee’s ideas and perceptual search, are inextricably bound to coalesce into one body. One of the contributing thoughts is, without doubt, his long-standing interest in the relationship between positive and negative. To Lee, the simple formula of positive and negative – since they supplement and negate each other – belies its latent value as efficacious tools in delivering the meaning of antinomy; in presenting a harmonious image by the converge of two opposites. What is interesting is that Lee said that only through concentrating on sense and what sense perceives, was he able to break himself away from this artificial symmetry contrived under the conscious gaze. Bidding farewell to tinkering with such Kantian relics, he was led to focus on one neglected truism: ‘a negative can be registered as a positive’. This break from the bond played a pivotal role in forging an entirely new idea upon the notion of negative casting; his good old negative, still faithful and retaining the element with only a husk of the trace of the positive, turned into a manuscript where Lee was compelled to write a completely new opus. One can discern the sonorous notes of the German boys’ phantom trace. This is the affirmation of ‘being’, which is derived from the negative trace that its original physicality had left behind. But, now, there is a significant change in it; Lee upped the ante, bringing in the leitmotif of existence – with a fissure and vacillating moments, when the existence falters on the rift. Once the score was completed, Lee looked for his lyrics, and he found them in images of people.

From Rupture to Healing: Saved Images

Lee Yong Deok is an avid photographer. He keeps a well of images of people in the camera, and, ‘saves’ inside his own modulated sculpting concepts, ‘desired’ images. Flipping through the catalogue of his negative figure series, I sometimes fancy Lee in his own studio, breathing life into the negative impressions on the film, into the sculptural form, like Prometheus. It looks as if Lee brushed off the earthly bustle before and after the click of the camera button, then scraped off the crust of reality against his own whim, and glazed them with detached languor. Finally, here arrives a menagerie of his subjects; the people; with their existence suspended. In this do I find Lee’s negative figures to be compulsively recherché. One cannot easily shake off such chic atmosphere emanating from the figures when they are equipoised in between the positive and negative. Lee explains the purpose of having created such figures by telling us of procedure of ‘saving’ images:

“ … when I look at the people, and select the subject, I purely focus on the momentary identity; not their own unique identity, but the one that was  encountered at the fleeting moment…This process involuntarily involves ‘opting out’ and ‘opting for’. How many people do we see whom we know about their detailed selfhoodness? Like the one sitting, or walking, or in red dress, being one is only momentarily witnessed at certain time and at certain place. That is sufficient for me, and I find them uncannily beautiful… It is similar to poems in that poems glow in the words which bear (the poet’s) pain of (having to go through) throwing out some other words..  I want to have me in that wilful transference (severance) as in a poem.”

This statement, I feel, is scintillating with his keen and ingenuous sensitivity, and is also, a little more than often poorly understood; because it may portray Lee as an incorrigible romantic; a romantic, as understood from the perspective of the present art scenes. The truth is the reverse. What Lee delves into is the momentary, fragmentary identity that severed its link to long, heavy details, details swirling around time and place, but nonetheless, having substantial attributes, not just as a contingency. When we shine the torch light onto this ‘severence’, what we see in his negative figures is the ghostly apparition of a being that is harshly disconnected. Lee says that this fragmentary being is invested by transcendental elements, which work as a visual statement where the essence of an irreducible moment is captured. Here, we bump into a sudden turnabout, viewers experience vertigo. How does something morbid (fragmentary) turn into something opposite (transcendental) by nature? This breathless leap in perception, underscores Lee’s enigmatic force; force to move and hold the form, cut, then heal the rupture. Some would eagerly eye on the consequential side of the work; whether or not the rift or the scar is well repaired. Seen from a distance, the seam of the separation seems to be nearly imperceptible. Furthermore, there is always the unexpected reinforcement assisting Lee’s manoeuvre, coming from beholders; beholders’ desire for it to be healed. 

In the work, Diving 0609 (2006), the one, single, vertiginous and hair splitting half a fraction of moment of a diver daring to look down is tweezed out upon the canvas. It is a near impossible feat for viewers to register that particular moment, but then, desire intervenes; it is a desire wanting to imagine the diver going through daring moments, defying the terrifying dizziness and enjoying the sweeping sensations of air and gravity. In Reading 0615 (2006), the mere sight of someone absorbed in reading and completely detached from what might be happening around them, evokes a mystically vicarious satisfaction. Whether the reader is facing an intellectual task, dealing with an emotional challenge, or even indulged in some abstract introspect, she is enclosed in her own serene perspicacity, and it is an envious moment.

Lee elucidates further upon stored and ‘saved’ images:

“I have never seen my real face. There is only the reflection of the real face on the mirror, just “projecting” the reflection in your mind, which is the way to approach and know the real image of my face (or the object). In understanding the real, projection or reflection of objects play fundamental roles. The purpose of “transference” in my work – a common quality which all forms of representation could inevitably have – is to represent or copy the image as it exists autonomously, breaking and denying the consequential running order, that is, the order of the original and the imitated… I save the image that is at its last stage, and that is distinguished from the rest of stages. I would think that this fictional image at one particular, the last, stage is self-governing. The proceeding, initial, stage is not a precursor to the image.”

It seems that the image goes through a modulation in a number of stages, and at the final stage, this “fictional” image, or rather, “fiction” has sovereign power. Lee explains that however fictitious, the chosen “fiction” stands in place of the real image, and becomes a referee in the game of the real. A famous existentialist tells a similar story through his play No Exit. In the play, three protagonists are placed in the hell. What defines hell? Partially, the non-existence of mirrors; a mirror gives you an image about yourself. It is a source of knowledge about the self, and an important ground that self can act upon, surmise, presume. It becomes obvious that the  situation in hell is rather sickly, as Inez, the lesbian woman character, points out to the other two characters, “Why, you’ve even stolen my face; you know it and I don’t!” On the other side of the globe in Paris, someone had focused on the idea that the world inundated with subjectivity is hell. On this side of the globe, one artist tells about the characteristic of this very image, the absence of which made up hotel hell in the play. He is fascinated with the idea that the image transcends its subjectivity and earns an unfazed autonomy. Lee calls it the fictitious image, and Sartre named it other people. A contemporary reader of Sartre’s play would ponder on the preposterous idea that the authority of the real can be circumscribed by its perceived image. A beholder of Lee’s figures would already stumble across the wondrous effect of the fictitious image, and might label it as an illusion.

The Wonder goes on; a Czech novelist called Milan Kundera knocked at this same haunting idea that Lee and Sartre explored, through the heroin of his story. Tereza stands in front of the mirror, in order to see her Self through her body. There is a shockingly beautiful description of why she did it, and what she saw from the mirror;

It was not vanity that drew her to the mirror; it was amazement at seeing her own “I”. She forgot she was looking at the instrument panel of her body mechanisms; she thought she saw her soul shining through the features of her face…. She would stare all the more doggedly at her image in an attempt to wish them away and keep only what was hers alone….her soul would rise to the surface of her body…

Lee’s fictional image is christened as one’s soul by Kundera. What is submerged in the body and surfaces on the mirror, and what is the true “I”. What one sees on the mirror, is the aura of being one beyond the physical resemblance. Here, Plato’s voice might ring again – although it is a voice that is disparaging and scoffing. However, the undeniable truth is that this haunting issue regarding the fictional and the original has been taking up an immortal spot in the long art history whether we want to admit it or not. In this vein, the marrow of Lee’s exposition of the elements of the ‘stored images’ should be regarded as of canonical concern that keeps arising out of the different circumstantial whips of different  charioteers of literature and art. This concern, a few decades ago, emerged in a frenzy during the postmodern discussion; this was done through an innocent term, Simulacrum, and its unhappy marriage with the ‘virtual reality’. Many of us remain much bewildered and annoyed at its vulgar alliance, and still have difficulties in shaking off the inevitable corollary of the unpleasant materialization of the initial issue, about Simulacrum itself. Lee’s works compel us to walk through the hazy passages and help us reach out to the junction between the copied, fictitious fragments and the “I” that knows about the paradoxical strands of such fragments. The “I” perceives another access to the truth by means of fictional entity. Lee leads us away into the realm where we can watch and understand Tereza’s lovable silliness of the Soul and Body. This sort of operation is not possible from the ‘normal’ frame of perception. This ‘unusual’ frame of perception resembles a special lens, which has the capability of capturing another lens, which clicks in a sweep, two different objects. Call it bigger, broader frame of perception, or different observatory, Lee is the artist who makes one bare one’s soul without the realization of doing it.

Galvanized

He had been more concerned with the purity and pedigree of his own concept and the differentiation of his works from others. Lee’s prime effort has poured into the crystallization of his own formula – the thesis of the negative casting as the locus of traces and the beyond. By and large, from around 2006, he started experimenting by incorporating narrative elements into his works. As in Philip, New York (2008), a solitary figure with a kind of minimalistic pictorial depiction, with spatial arrangement in the background produced a dramatic effect. As a result, the figures seem to be on a theatrical stage, performing a ‘visual soliloquy’. Philip is the image of a man who languidly leans against a psychological labyrinth, with half an unconsumed anticipation, lingering within the other half’s smothered desire. The artist seems to have given an acting directive, and the ‘actor’ seems to be putting on this act with certain rueful affection as well as hesitation. It is interesting to observe that however carefully Lee tried to guard the ‘purity’ and the ‘solitariness’ of the sieved images through minimalistic elements in the background, the stories of ‘before’ and ‘after’, simply leak at the most captivating measure. Probably the reason for this betrayal is that the simple assistance of the backdrop exerts an explosive power, affecting the beholder’s desire to know; to the extent that this desire summons up the before and the after, and more. The offered background becomes a medium. With the henceforth liquidation of image doggedly at heel once the viewers get too close, they feel much more acutely aware of the loss, as if the negative space sucked up the efflorescent mesh of fantasy with a merciless snap.

Lee’s more recent works, exhibited for the Shanghai Biennale (2006, Aphasia in front of the car), Spain Biennale (2008), and Singapore Biennale (2008, I’m not expensive) are done at an epic scale different from the usual single image of figurations. The works are assorted scenes and images that are put together with seemingly arbitrary connections. Meanings are elusive, but there is still a subtle nuance of accordance between the scenes if looked with the cautious eye; and you’ll find a riddle with clues. Lee, with the idea of the mise-en-scène, puts characters, lightings (amber neon-lights, or bluish or purplish filtered hues), backdrops, and the shot all into the scene. And all of a sudden, his signature negative figures, become a part of the mise-en-scène. Perhaps, this director is asking them to find a convoluted continuity with discontinuous shots. Life is not composed of consistent, equable incidents; it is full of unpredictable quandaries. Bevies of little details that come in between these incidents can often be misleading. In fact, quite often, one has to suspend reality and its time frame in exchange of truth, and take capricious cadences when and by thinking in perspective. Many of Lee’s works that were on view for the Biennales are richly braided dramas, and their visual presentations are comparable to stanzas in poems, sliced from their wholeness.    

New Works

Lee’s new works for this show play high and steep; there is a noticeable increase in the stakes. It seems that Lee is moving on to higher ground, where he can search for the portentous value of his concept on the negative trace. Overshadowed and Outshined are two works that have a mild dose of this, though with sorrowful tinges. A woman carrying her child, and a wizened old woman. Both are silhouetted against a background of huge dark shadows. Their presence is dwarfed so pathetically that even the negative trace seems to have come to despondent nonentity, engulfed by other presences. The juxtaposition of the shadow of women and that of other presences makes viewers feel the doleful state of the lesser-being of the women. It feels as if their life was on a tether for so devastatingly long that they are shackled by their own existence. The children are quite familiar subjects throughout his oeuvres, and this time appears, too, the works with a recalcitrant girl, in Opening the Darkness and Taking a Risk: a girl who is about to step in the doorway. There is a faint sign of something intractable in the steps she takes on her disdainful countenance. Lee’s sustained interest in the children’s image lends the works the allegorical touch; the children’s innocent and arguably healthy refusal to abide by the adult’s codes – their oblivious wandering into the unknown and the uncertain, and maybe a blessing of fortuitous discovery. Lee makes his own endorsement in the images of the girl, and tells her: go ahead, find your own Wonderland. But the wandering does not always fall in the category of sweet perambulation. One might have to experience the vertiginous fall to where there is a violent disruption to all normative systems; where one is made to engage with the society at reverse entry. One would never be able to feel the same, as one’s inverted existence without its initial protective crust would be perpetually scratched and rasped against the sanctimonious and even vindictive claws of the reversed frame. First Kiss In Pink is a plaintive call of the moment when one crosses over the hedge of the ‘gazes’ of others and of oneself. Through this work, Lee’s conception of the negative existence reveals its subterranean component – although in truth, the thing underneath is forceful enough to erupt from the within and to present itself as another truth. What Lee was after, was the realm, the passage way at which the original reality passes, then lives its life differently again as a fictional substance. He not only intends to lead viewers to the passage and to witness what is happening there as mentioned above, but also beckons viewers to also walk the passage over to the other side. The naked man who holds up both hands as if signalling a surrender, intensely discloses the very moment that a fatal decision barged its presence through the mad oscillation of whether to give up or not. At the tilting moment, the existence changes its existing mode. Lee aspires to show this intricate paradox, by means of expanding the idea on the negative concept to that of the inmost zones; where the allegiance to the binary division of the existence gives way to the unstable back and forth, in other words, the trills of the existence. Which is embodied in the work Oscillating Bride, composed of a countless number of pearl beads. In this work, Lee, as if he were Homer, portrays a visual story ‘in medias res.’

“In a sudden unexpected moment, the bride wavered in a cloud of doubt….”

Underneath the lustre of argent congealment, the beads give off intangible quivering. They are like cosmic particles with which great happenstance and scheme is yarned, and the inchoate combination of which sends fatal frisson to one’s perception of life. The beads elude any univocal grip, with a perpetual predilection for the indeterminate energy. Lee’s negative trace dramatically transmutes, as if the solid mass of the surface were shot by beams of the artist’s perception and so one saw, instead of the inert surface, the myriad of dancing motes with palpitation; the vibration coming from the fissure of the existence.

Conclusion

When an epoch of new culture is ushered, elbowing the jaded past, people who are steeped in the disorienting social changes yearn for an alternative way of thinking. One common way out of the chaos and to acquire sanity, is to construct plural narratives and create a novelty. The elements selected for the combination can be dazzlingly various. One can build up an impressive library with an infinite number of combinations, each indexed with a card.

Or there are those who take a different path; they are not interested in the creation of hybrids or pastiche, they choose to refuse something indexical. Their aspiration is akin to the ambition to embrace with poetic spirit, the extravagant encyclopaedic knowledge. Their characteristic of being less referential makes them look like the Cheshire cat with the floating head and knowing smile. This cat is a disengaged, ironically observing intelligence, and is the creature that is a reference point for Alice, so that she can engage the overwhelming unaccountability and strangeness of the Wonderland.

It is my belief that Lee Yong Deok’s art has a keen resemblance to this second style of approach to the truth, because Lee’s thesis is about the junction at which different reference frames are braided and crossed in the gossamer of self-governing verities. His negative figures are apt abstractions of the suspended existence; the quotidian and empirical understanding of oneself is entwined through the genuine transcendence of self in the negative entity. Lee Yong Deok explores this paradoxical region and hankers after it, capturing what takes place in that interstice. It is at this in-between that one is compelled to be aware of the threshold of perception. I feel that Lee is an intrepid artist. He is not so much hesitant to show viewers what is at the other side of the border; he challenges the notion of the negative trace and makes a beautiful metaphor of one’s existence. I would like to stress that this manoeuvre is a remarkable accomplishment, for it tells us how Lee did not twinge at the heavy connotation revolving Plato’s tenet, something everybody tried to shun and sweep under the carpet. Furthermore, Lee also had to wade through a quagmire called a ‘reference point’ that was cultivated in the Western front, and that was at the beck and call of the discussion held in the periphery. The inconvenient necessity of the ‘reference point’, too often looked upon his works as mere optical illusion. The adroit appropriation of the effect of illusion initially holds the beholder’s corporeal eye, which is then converted to that of perception. The double reading of the moment of the equipoise when the inverted sculpture pauses as the positive, offers the exaltation to viewers.

My final thought about Lee’s art is the strange respite that it evokes. As mentioned above, Lee’s ‘saved’ images on the negative casting have a rift and the existential stigma that is in all of us. Its quintessential aspect is its constant non-fixed narrative of becoming. The story of becoming inevitably has the rich intake of all the things around life, such as the purpose of life, the unexpected causation, and the acceptance of truths, etc.  Thus, the story of the existence at the moment of negation and affirmation, gives us reprieve; by ever suspending the astringent sentence to life, in pursuit of something more inclusive.