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Article | Jan 2016

The work of Lee Sujin as an hymn of life

By Emireth Herrera

Upon RU's recommendation, the New York based curators Shlomit Dror (RU Alum) and William Stover as well as RU Alum Emireth Herrera Valdés (Mexico) were invited by the Seoul Art Space Geumcheon  (SASG) in South Korea to write a critical review about the Korean artists Wonho Lee, Hwang Sooyeon, and Lee Sujin who are currently in residency at SASG. This is the third consecutive year for this partnership between RU and SASG.


A site is an interruptor that detonates multiple approaches to art. Every creative process is refined to produce vivid acts, specially when it involves social participation. How is it possible to mold a space in order to generate energy? The duality of an abandoned space is related to isolation and active imagination. It is a depository that stores energy over time. In fact, the architecture of an abandoned building testifies history and becomes a reminder of memories that are part of a collective imaginary. One can observe a site and discover footprints that time have left behind.

The Korean artist Lee Sujin, articulates the recognition of social situations in order to analyze the restriction and manipulation of individual life. She combines the exploration of a site with the cultural context and community interaction. Furthermore, the main objective is to extract the essence of the place. The result of her artistic process is a unique and unrepeatable work.

The contemporary art practice of Lee Sujin carries out the Relational Aestethic, term created by the critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud, to define the creation of art as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space” (1998).

Lee Sujin creates forms that generate exchanges, something that Bourriaud would call a way to frame potential encounters “receiving a form is to create the conditions for an exchange, the way you return a service in a game of tennis” (1998). Remarkably, site-specific interventions are situations that commit the spectator to complement the multiplicity of shapes, reinventing the time, embracing the space, and linking several interpretations.

LEE SUJIN, The Deep Stay, 2012. stage scrim, wood panel, mix media, Installation view. unit site in Doksan-dong, Seoul, Korea

The installations The Deep Stay (2012-2014), Private but Non-private (2014) and Flexible Wall (2011) display social situations that have been decoded through symbols that associate realities. The space is constantly updated by a real context, where active participants analyze the superposition of space and time, this is a combination of physical alteration with memory.

A certain quality of Lee Sujin's work is the way she conciliates organicity through repetitive patterns, elastic textures and overlapped shapes. Her space interventions reflect wisdom in nature and the capability of operating consciously, it is some kind of revelation of urban atmosphere, life, coexistence and potentiality.

The presence of color is the element that engages spectator at first glaze, it absorbs the energy of the site, evokes vitality and stimulates the spectators to live the place. For example, The Deep Stay (2012-2014) becomes a vivid space through red ribbons that reinforce the elasticity of matter and keep tension in the space. Moreover, the installation is completed by sensations that go beyond social boundaries. Somehow, the whole work connects human behavior, architecture and its implications of functionality and form to modify the environment. It is a representation of operational systems which are influenced and manipulated in society.

LEE SUJIN, Private but Non-Private, 2014. stage scrim, wood panel, wheel, hinge, mix media, Installation view. Seoul Art Space_ Geumcheon, Seoul, Korea

The Korean artist conceives the site as an organic body; she scrutinizes it to set up a joyful platform that alternates playful activities through her own performance while intervening the place. This organic body mutates and its shape is extended by elastic materials that extrapolate the sense of being alive. Her poetical way of modifying the place substitutes time by imagination. Although, site specific interventions fuel the essence of the abandoned space.

Since Lee Sujin intervenes the space through tied ribbons across the space, she connects the roof with the walls enlightening the surface and giving content to emptiness. This process is quite similar to the butterfly metamorphosis. The performative act of tying the ribbons is compared to the digestive process of a caterpillar that produces silk to spin itself and builds its own home. Similarly, the artist inhabits the space by knitting elastic ribbons as connecting knowledge, memories and experiences. After comprehending the space, it is totally transformed acquiring energy just as a butterfly which opens its wings ready to fly. The interactions of art in an immense horizon are a remembrance of nature as an infinite spectacle of symbols and elements that are reinterpreted through artistic manifestations. The reconfiguration of its composition reveals its quality of exalting emotions and thoughts.

LEE SUJIN, Flexible Wall, 2011. packing strap, wood panel, mix media, Installation view. Boan Inn, Seoul, Korea.

In Flying across the Moonlight (2015), the main character is the enigmatic satellite of our planet which is the inspiration of poems and legends around the work. The moon is well known as one of the most valuable symbols in life. The presence of its light in the firmament is an overall view of the phenomenon of mystical fecundity in Earth. Such event is related to the conspiracy of itself with the rest of the planets during the act of creating and giving birth. This is is a vibrant artwork that provides a marvelous scenery to encounter Islamic and Korean cultures, which have shared history over time. From 57 B.C. to 890 A.D. both civilizations celebrated an exchange that impulsed their progress in astronomy, technology and art. Besides that, during 1970s and 1980s Saudi Arabia and Korea had a labour trade. Both events have had a notable effect in society.

LEE SUJIN, Flying across the Moonlight, 2015. Installation view. Al Bastakia, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

This installation is a luminous sphere that spins with singular rhythm over its own axis, its movement is similar to the moon´s rotation over the dark sky. The tissue of the the structure is made of diamonds that are joined to each other, just as both cultures are attached to each sharing history and costumes. Who does not want to fly across the moon specially if it is possible to follow its light? Just the idea of penetrating, conveys imagination and evokes dreams. It is a celebration of life that culminates by illuminating an hymn to life. Flying across the moon light hypnotizes whoever looks at it. The beauty of this artwork is an invitation to discover the strong link that Korean and Islamic cultures have kept for many years.

The sensitive perception of Lee Sujin leads her work to an intense and meticulous discourse. It is delightful to see the mixture of grace in movement and reflection through experience. Her main aim is to rescue abandoned spaces, so that her intention is not only achieved through interventions and research but also by pouring memory in space. Suddenly, an abandoned space becomes an energetic being that will be kept alive in the spectator's minds.

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