SEUNG AE LEE, A Cabinet, 2017, pencil on paper, 50 × 70 cm; animation: 7 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Arts, London.

Seung Ae Lee

Marlborough Fine Art
Korea, South United Kingdom

SEUNG AE LEE, A Lamp, 2017, pencil on paper, 70 × 50 cm; animation: 3 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Arts, London.

In September, Korean artist and 2016 Valerie Beston Artists’ Trust Prizewinner Seung Ae Lee presented a solo show at Marlborough Fine Art, London. The artist has been creating elaborate renderings of wildly imaginative fictional creatures and objects since the mid-2000s, but has recently been focusing on a new animation series. In this exhibition, Lee presented three of her new moving-image works—BecomingA Cabinet and A Lamp (all 2017), as well as her previous works A Bird and A Frog (both 2016).

Lee’s practice requires intensive labor. She draws pencil images on paper, records them, then erases part of the picture and adds new elements to create new frames. After the last image is completed and digitized, and the illustrations are sequenced in the right order, Lee inserts a sound composition of her own design as a capstone, completing the work. In the artist’s exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art, each video was paired and exhibited with its final drawing, which is what remains after thousands of rounds of erasure and additions.

Lee’s animations at times begin with circles, ovals or sphere-like forms, which then morph into new shapes based on the artist’s imagination and sensibilities. For example, in Becoming, threaded beads transform into apples, walnuts, then a brain, which swims like a tadpole in water, then blooms into a flower before continuing its transformations from and into familiar objects. In all, 2,000 drawings are behind this video’s ten-minute runtime. The artist does not follow a specific structure for storytelling; rather, she makes images of what lies in front of her, and follows her natural senses associated with them to find her way to the next image. In other words, the continuous transformation of the image does not follow logical causal relations, but instead strictly abides by the artist’s intuition. And such instinctive flow results in a unique narrative process that goes beyond the anticipation of even the artist herself. Unpredictability is a key element of Becoming and Lee’s other works.

SEUNG AE LEE, Becoming, 2017, pencil on paper; animation: 10 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Arts, London.
SEUNG AE LEE, Becoming, 2017, pencil on paper; animation: 10 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Arts, London.

In her creations, Lee alludes to the realm of the primal consciousness, lucidly shedding light on the moment when one might erroneously believe that our observations reflect absolute truth. The artist’s practice reflects the Daoist philosophy of Lao Tzu (604–531 BCE), who said, “The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.” In our viewing of Lee’s work, the persistently transforming image leads us to interpret what we see in new ways. The lack of a clearly delineated beginning and end mirrors Lao Tzu’s philosophies recorded in the 4th-century-BCE text Tao Te Ching, with each frame signifying a progression in the artist’s process, every one carrying its own meaning.

Another interesting aspect about Lee’s work is that it often introduces symbols of death and extinction, but these should be thought of as states in the changes that humans experience. In Buddhism, constant alteration is an essential part of existence; this philosophy that lies behind Lee’s work, along with the various visual elements that can be inferred from the images the artist produces, relays Buddhist philosophy without drawing from readily identifiable religious content. The combination of animation with concepts from millennia ago culminated in a show that was a fresh direction for the gallery, according to longtime director of Marlborough Fine Art, Gilbert Lloyd. At home and abroad, Lee’s works stand out in their aesthetic distinctiveness and unique take on age-old philosophies.

Installation view of SEUNG AE LEE’s exhibition at Marlborough Fine Arts, London, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Arts.

Seung Ae Lee’s solo exhibition was on view at Marlborough Fine Art, London, until September 9, 2017.

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