Editorial Feature

Lee Bul On The Inspiration Behind Her Futuristic Show At The Hayward Gallery 

 The contemporary sculpture and installation artist on exhibiting at the Hayward Gallery and where her ideas come from

Appearing on the art scene first in the 1980s, South Korean artist Lee Bul has recently transformed Hayward Gallery with her new dream-like exhibition, featuring monstrous bodies, futuristic cyborgs, surreal mirrored environments and a monumental foil Zeppelin. Her show brings together more than 100 of her works from the late 1980s to the present day. We talk to her about her exhibition:

You’ve got pieces from the 1980s to today – what was the process of choosing what was included? Did you have a narrative in mind?

It’s more useful to view them in a broader context on a continuum with my works exploring modernity and architectural ideas, as an examination of our faith in the idea of greater progress, towards perfection. The works are supposed to be seen and understood in relation to each other. Together with Stephanie Rosenthal, we tried to make a landscape that connects various works from different times, like a diorama. In this way the show brings together a selection of pieces that I’ve made over the past thirty years. It includes early performance documentation videos, iconic sculptural works such as the Cyborgs, Monsters, and Anagrams, a number of drawings, paintings, and maquettes, as well as on-going sculptural series of Mon grand récit, and new installation works developed from early drawings.

Installation view of Lee Bul, Titan, 2013 and Untitled sculpture (W3), 2010 at Hayward Gallery, 2018 Photo: Linda Nylind (From the collection of Hayward Gallery)
Installation view of Lee Bul, Crashing at Hayward Gallery, 2018 Photo: Linda Nylind (From the collection of Hayward Gallery)

Why do you think the Hayward was the best environment to house your work in a show like this? In what way does the show interact with its environment?

I always felt the Hayward Gallery building resembles a bunker made of concrete. Concrete is material developed enthusiastically for architecture by architects of fascist societies in the early 20th century. When thinking about Archigram wanting to build a democratic, peaceful architecture about flexibility and mobility with an ideal vision, it is interesting that they chose to use concrete rather than transparent or more natural materials. Technology is like that. There always lies some ironic relationship that we can easily find contradiction, which we can name a “failed utopia.”

Installation view of Lee Bul, Mon grand récit, Weep into stones..., 2005 at Hayward Gallery, 2018 Photo: Linda Nylind (From the collection at Hayward Gallery)

What do you want people to feel when they see your work?

In most cases, I try not to think about how the audience would react to the piece during the process of making art. However, the relationship between my work and audience is still important since it invites the audience to uncover various narratives and allegories through their own interpretation of the work.

Installation view of Lee Bul, Via Negativa II, 2014 at Hayward Gallery, 2018 (interior detail) Photo: Linda Nylind (From the collection of Hayward Gallery)
Installation view of Lee Bul, Via Negativa II, 2014 at Hayward Gallery, 2018 (interior detail) Photo: Linda Nylind (From the collection of Hayward Gallery)

Where do your ideas come from? How does the outside world impact your work?

It’s possible to be inspired by almost anything and everything. At the risk of sounding like an old-fashioned humanist, though, I’m mainly inspired – and also bewildered and bemused – by humans in general. Ideals, history and civilization: is there anything that is totally divorced from humans and humanity? Maybe somethings are, but I’m not interested in them.

Installation view of Lee Bul, Via Negativa II, 2014 at Hayward Gallery, 2018 (interior detail) Photo: Mark Blower (From the collection of Hayward Gallery)
Credits: All media
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