South Korean artist Lee Lee Nam is perhaps one of the most notable video artists of our time and will be exhibiting at the Cernuschi Museum in Paris during globally renowned FIAC, as well as satellite art fair Asia Now. The Lee Lee Nam Museum will be opening in Gwangju early 2019, an exciting endeavor. His artwork A Path to Peace (2018) acted as the visual backdrop at the inter-Korean summit in April 2018, where Kim Jong-un crossed over to the South Korean territory to meet Moon Jae-in – a first for a North Korean leader since the beginning of the Korean War in 1950. A significant moment between the two historical enemies, and for the artist himself.
Reappropriation of Classical Art
Lee Lee Nam has exhibited alongside video art heavyweights such as Nam June Paik (whom he has been likened to and influenced by) and Bill Viola, ultimately aiding his international recognition. Central to his oeuvre, he places new technologies at the heart of his artistic approach whilst synthesizing significant art historical images using multiple new media techniques – breathing life into these classical artworks. He engages with traditional Korean art, animation, European old masters as well as digital art, going back and forth between East and West, past and present, dreams and reality, thereby probing the differences between cultures. A strong poetic charge emanates from his creations creating a cross-cultural dialogue replete with references to art history and technology. By using video as his medium, he is critiquing the society in which we live by responding to today’s generation of hyperconnectivity.
By blurring traditional contours of art, Lee Lee Nam allows new apprehension of his artworks, transporting the viewer from 2D to an interactive and animated sphere of video in 3D. Elements move slowly and silently, engaging the viewer with a hypnotic invitation to travel to another world that is imagined through his acutely technical digital manipulation of images.
Lee Lee Nam at the Cernuschi Museum
The 2nd edition of Cernuschi Video Art ‘Survivances’ at the Cernuschi Museum runs from 16th – 21st October and is dedicated to the theme of history and it’s ghostly presence, as well as the trauma that it presents to contemporary Asian societies. It explores a reflection of the memory of wars that once tore apart and disconnected societies and creates dialogue in terms of how new generations are confronted with this past. When one travels to an undesirable place, nostalgia sets in, and the artists selected for this year’s edition reappropriate their heritage by using digital manipulation, introducing the stylistic and technical diversity of video art in the Far East.
New General view of Mount Geumgang – 2009 – Video duration: 7:14 min
‘New General view of Mount Geumgang’ (2009), the reappropriated artwork that will be on display at the Cernuschi Museum, begins originally as the famous landscape painted by Korean artist Jeong Seon in 1734 during the reign of King Yeongjo. Against a backdrop of tranquil sounds of nature, we are transported to a world steeped in historical references, beginning with a way of life that is seemingly peaceful. As the image slowly starts to take on a life of its own, the music gradually becomes more ominous. One hears a world that has been imprinted with the hand of industrialization, visually moving towards scenes of anarchy. The landscape transforms to one filled with city lights and skyscrapers, with a sinister tone of war plans and helicopters hovering, underscoring a time of mass destruction. Clouds of smoke gradually fill the air, indicative of explosives and suggestive of war.
This visual storytelling technique that is employed takes us on a journey through the history of Korea, the pinnacle being that of the Korean War that was a by-product of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. The war began in 1950, and the conflict ultimately resulted in Korea being split into two sovereign states. It was also the first time in history where jet fighters confronted each other in air-to-air combat, which is also reflected in the artwork. 1953 marked the end of the war when an armistice was signed, leading to a separation of North and South Korea. No peace treaty was signed, and the two Korea’s are technically still at war and engaged in a frozen conflict.
Lee Lee Nam depicts this trauma of war that is still very much prevalent in today’s society with the political tensions and dislocations that it stirs. He communicates with a contemporary audience whilst immersing them in a historical experience, underscoring the disturbance that presents itself alongside war.