Artist Lee Dong-wook, known for his hyper-realistic and surrealistic sculptures of miniature human figurines, has brought a Low Tide to the shores of Jeju.
Featuring both new and previous works, as well as an early mechanical piece made during his university days, Dong-wook’s exhibition at the Arario Museum Dongmun Motel II will run from Oct. 29 through July 9 of 2017.
Lee’s newest work, “Low Tide”, explores the relationship between the surface and the hidden, based on the concept of how the hidden becomes exposed when a tide recedes.
The second floor of the exhibition features shiny, gold-plated items, of which the centerpiece is a massive gold chain made from links small to large, spanning a whole 16 meters.
▲ 16 meters of gold link, from small to large Photo by Jia Min Tan
A work entitled “Pooh”, from previous exhibitions, is a honeycomb-covered trophy with a naked human figurine sitting on top - an image far from the adorable honey-loving bear that we know.
There’s also a large, new installation from Lee here showing figures from shooting trophies pointing their guns at a humanoid carrying a heavy tube, atop a large platform of wooden panels and honeycombs.
The nude human figures amid the dazzling, golden installations pose an intriguing tension between the lustrous and the grotesque, with a subtext suggesting capitalism and oppression.
▲ A piece entitled “Pooh” that asks us about our wants Photo by Jia Min Tan
Lee often sculpts the nude human bodies using “sculpey”, a material used in clay animation. He focuses on the contradictions that are fundamentally inherent in human existence and life.
His eerie, mini humanoids enclosed in bell jars on the third floor, with their frozen facial expressions, reminds one of biological specimens in the laboratory suspended in liquid preservative.
The 2008 piece, “Armor”, is a warrior wearing an armor stitched from skin and flesh. Its childlike face possesses a singularly empty look. On the other hand, the 2016 “Armor” is a young man standing at attention, holding a gold-plated sword, also wearing armor of skin and flesh.
▲ The 2008 piece, “Armor” Photo by Jia Min Tan
“Handle” is a sword with numerous tiny human figures bound with string to its handle. Lee’s signature renditions of horror in mini human form question the concepts of life and death, beauty and cruelty, civilization and savagery.
The fourth floor, interestingly, showcases “All the Interestings”, a collection of sparkling gemstones in different colors and shapes. Lee rearranged and configured his collection amassed from all around the world to create a new, abstract world using nets, mushrooms, and wooden sticks.
One of the stones, with a green, moss-like covering, brings to mind Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 animated adventure film, “Castle in the Sky”, which features fortresses and lush greenery floating in the sky. It is part of a larger, random arrangement that resembles meteoroids floating in space - and the aluminum foil-looking attachment, a cruising spaceship.
Lee attempts to explore the possibility of coexistence between universality and diversity, but it is also open to the imagination and interpretation of viewers.
The uppermost floor showcases past works which reflect the artist’s fascination with living organisms in containers, like fish tanks and bird cages. The viewer is able to observe his thematic and technical changes over the years.
Human faces packed in vitamin capsules, human-shaped fish bait, and mermaids in an airtight food container are just some of the items you can expect to see.
A kind of machinery artwork, showing a large man turning a wheel slowly and a small man turning a wheel quickly, is something from Lee’s university years which is being showcased for the first time.
Another interesting offering is the printed logo of Burt’s Bees - a personal care products company. In it, there is a figurine of the founder, Burt Shavitz, sitting on a honeycomb in a tin of Hand Salve.
▲ At times shocking, Dong-wook’s work is also thought provoking Photo by Jia Min Tan
Stepping out of the museum into the sunlight, a visitor might be surprised to remember that it’s still daytime. The dark, isolated interiors of the exhibition halls transport the viewer into another world of the artist’s imagination.
The displays on each floor are widely spaced, and, in the darkness, you cannot help but focus only on what the spotlights direct you to. The haunting expressions of the diminutive humanoids in their various absurd forms flash across the mind like old projector film. We are left feeling disturbed, and our notion of the seen and the unseen, nicely shaken.
The Arario Museum opens daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. except Mondays. Tickets are 10,000 won each.
▲ Human-shaped fish bait - just some of the items you can expect to see
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