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Lee Bul is a contemporary sculpture and installation artist whose work encompasses performance as well as large-scale installations. With her work currently on display at Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre, we decided to see what it was all about.
Born in South Korea in 1964, Lee Bul started her art career in the late 1980’s, with a focus on spreading her views on the oppression of women in a male-dominated society. Much of her work comments on the body standards women are forced to live up to. She combines this sense of philosophy and personal experience with science fiction and makes use of an incredibly diverse range of materials in her work, from silk to fibreglass and silicone. She is particularly drawn to materials related to organisms, such as velvet, which comes from silkworms, and pearls, that are produced by shellfish.
The exhibition displays an extensive collection of her work, such as her early work featuring futuristic hybrids of living organisms and machines, an abundance of mirrors and lights, and a feature bunker which once inside alters any sound. The use of glass and mirrors is extremely prevalent in her sculptures.
The exhibition displays five rooms. Upon arrival you are greeted by cyborg sculptures hanging from the ceiling, which represent our society’s obsession with reinvention and improvement in our physical appearance. The cyborgs are made up of both female and mechanical body parts – a dystopian prediction of where science may lead us.
The second room introduces spectators to Lee Bul’s interest in theatre and live performance, favoured by the artist for its ‘spontaneous mixing of life and art’, which sculptures alone cannot achieve. Fascinated by Japanese culture and karaoke, she created an interactive futuristic karaoke pod in the form of a fibreglass capsule that lies in the centre of the room. Her live performances, which incorporate art from the early days of her career, are also streamed on televisions.
Artwork featured in the third room focuses on the pursuit of perfection on an architectural scale. She uses an oversized bathtub filled with dark ink and ringed by snowy mountains to draw attention to political atrocities related to water torture, such as the death of activist Park Jong-Chul. Her other works play on the Brutalist line of European architectural modernity, as well as celebrating architectural utopianism with models of glittering cities made entirely from glass.
The exhibition is thought-provokingly creative, criticising both our current society and the way in which our existing obsessions will detrimentally affect generations to come. Her use of natural materials and the incorporation of architectural techniques in her work ensure that there is something at this exhibition for everyone – we highly recommend giving it a visit!