Silicone cyborgs with missing organs and limbs, towering balloon monuments, and sequin-encrusted dead fish? These are just a few of the works created by Lee Bul, a Korean artist with a taste for odd materials and a love of interactive art.... [more]
Silicone cyborgs with missing organs and limbs, towering balloon monuments, and sequin-encrusted dead fish? These are just a few of the works created by Lee Bul, a Korean artist with a taste for odd materials and a love of interactive art. Lee has a highly nuanced approach to her projects. Behind every installation lies an intricate nexus of ideas -- ideas that allow her to play with her audience. Lee does not simply create cyborgs that alienate human onlookers; she also creates living, interactive art that draws the audience into mutual engagement.
Like the theories of Donna Haraway, which articulate an entire politics and epistemology of the cyborg, Lee Bul's work intervenes in the culture of technology. For Lee, every product of technology is infused with ideological constructs that help determine the object's social function. By fashioning ambiguously gendered cyborgs, Lee suggests that what we construct with technology and ideas extends from machines to bodies to gender.
Lee tangles together various representations of femininity to reveal the seams and joints of cultural constructions. For example, both "Cyborg Red" (1997) and "Cyborg Blue" (1997) evoke archetypal images of femininity from Classical art, but recast them in the superhuman form of Japanese anime and manga characters. But Lee doesn't merely trade on these mythologies, she introduces her own critique of them. Her cyborgs lack organs and limbs, illustrating the vulnerability of the body as a technologically negotiated entity. Within the tight nexus of classic and contemporary images she reveals openings, sites of intervention and transformation.
And she co-opts her audience to do some of this intervening for her. "I Need You" (1996) is a giant blow-up balloon shaped like a Korean woman, who "needs" viewers to inflate her by means of foot pumps. The piece functions as a parody of cultural monuments: people find themselves ridiculously heaving up and down in the formal space of the gallery simply to make the garish piece stand erect. The participatory nature of the monument shows how a society contributes to the creation of its own insidious images.
Representations are attacked from all sides by Lee. In "Majestic Splendor" (1995), a dead fish is beautifully adorned and displayed. Of course, a rotting stink greets us long before we set eyes on the piece. The privilege usually accorded to visual aesthetics -- and the fish does appear exquisitely beautiful -- is displaced by the overwhelming olfactory element. In the end, the object's beauty is rendered dubious and even disgusting.
Throughout her diverse projects, Lee Bul tinkers with cultural conventions, stereotypes, and ideologies. She develops spaces in which art objects and the audience communicate in a perpetual cybernetic circuit -- a mutual complicity that both engages and troubles conventional icons and images. [show less]