LEE JAEHYO : Beautiful Dialogue
HADA | VYNER STREET
12 - 30 MAY 2012

"I certainly do not have the power to make the world beautiful. I just hope to make those things that are seen beautiful."

The organic constructions of Lee Jaehyo exude a breath-taking otherworldly splendour. Both pensive and dynamic, still yet deafening, his works allow him to expose the often neglected intrinsic beauty of his conventional subjects. His ‘common’ materials and forms of choice offer an immediate accessibility that defies any cultural, historical, intellectual or spiritual boundary, seducing the audience to enter into its space and reacquaint themselves with the un-commonness of their existence. Yet in their ability to cross borders and seamlessly adapt to international landscapes, Lee’s practice remains specifically rooted in Korean artistic tradition to cultivate his exchange with the present.

Born in 1965 in South Korea, Lee Jaehyo emerged against the predominant wave of his contemporaries whose art imitated Western modernist styles and movements of the early twentieth century. Audiences have been quick to associate him with the concept of faktura of the Russian Constructivists active in the early years leading up to the First World War (1914-18) and the Land Art movement of the United States that took shape in the 1960s and 70s. Faktura referred to the visual demonstration of distinct properties inherent to materials while the Land Art movement protested against the artificiality and commercialisation of beauty. Lee’s works such as 0121-110=112027 reflect these primary concerns of faktura and Land Art through the use of the timeless medium of wood. The pieces have been laboriously worked into a smooth and perfect column to reveal the striking nuances of their growth rings, tones and textures. However Lee also voices the primary importance of upholding traditional Korean art in his work. Korean art stands out for the importance placed on the subtle mark of the artist while respecting the nature of the materials. The traditional Korean art genres of calligraphy, painting, ceramics, handicraft and architecture emphasise a strong emotional and spiritual tie to their native landscape expressed through rustic lines, simple tones and unrestrained harmony. Lee’s wooden constructions are reminiscent of Korean traditional houses, hanok. Although hanok were built without the use of nails and Lee’s wooden sculptures rely heavily on metal fastenings, his work ingeniously embodies the structurally and aesthetically balanced fusion of straight lines and curves, exposed ribs and decorative surfaces that characterise hanok.

The significance placed on structure and surface and the interplay between the media employed for each work reveals Lee’s constant interaction with his materials. Sculptures such as 0121-110=1111219 reverse the roles of the invisible structural nails and the visible wood exterior. The nails rise to the surface of the work, embedded into charcoaled wood and polished to an unexpected mesmerising sheen. These constant exchanges between the seen and unseen, material and immaterial, in Lee’s work uncover the synergy of artificial intervention with natural evolution; an attribute of his relationship with both his materials and the development of his art.

Lee’s commitment to presenting the ‘true’ nature of his media conveys a mutual respect between the artist and his materials. Everyday entities such as steel and wood metamorphose into new and unfamiliar identities through the artist’s inquisitive and reverent deconstruction of the materials. From the moment he walks into the forest or tool shop to encounter his collection of timber, stone or nails for his next creation, he allows these materials to speak to him, taking on the role of an instrument for their next incarnation. Painstakingly polished slices of wood and bent nails convey the beauty of the conventional and Lee maximises their purity through simple geometric forms. Such expressions are also seen in his recent sculpture 0121-1110-111041, built entirely of welded stainless steel cylindrical tubes which possess an organic quality that appears to breathe life into, and uncover the beauty of, the industrial material and form.

The immensity and flawlessness of nature that inspire Lee Jaehyo’s dialogues with his materials endow his sculpture with a universality that engages anyone who also dares to venture beyond surface and object. He stands amongst a select group of Korean contemporary artists whose expression is deeply tied to their inherited tradition. As curator Laurencina Farrant-Lee observes, these artists ‘possess strong emotional and spiritual ties to their native landscape and culture and draw from Korean aesthetics to sustain, complement and further their contemporary statement’[1]. Lee’s works appear to live and breathe in the present through their creator’s ability to converse with the past and look forward, a respect that flows into the materials and beyond to the spectator.

- Jungeun Lee, Independent Writer

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[1] Laurencina Farrant-Lee, ‘Simply Beautiful Exhibition Concept’, Lee Jaehyo. Simply Beautiful: Breadth of Nature in Korean Contemporary Art, CentrePasquArt, Biel, 2006, n.p.