brilliant 30: Jonggeon Lee
Exploring the meaning of displaced structures from their original contexts
Jonggeon Lee, “We are where we are Not"
Jonggeon Lee takes pieces of structures one might find in an ordinary house. Then he places them in an exhibition space, thereby creating an installation. The issue of cultural context is presented in visual form: these installations highlight the ways in which certain styles symbolizing “home” appear different after undergoing temporal and spatial changes – or, more simply, changes of context. In physical terms, a home is an architectural structure built on a particular plot of ground; in a particular space, then, cultural characteristics of the surrounding society and community are displayed.
From a psychological perspective, the English word, ‘home’ is an embodiment of the physical house, along with the abstract concept of native place. Regardless of Eastern or Western culture, this signifies the psychological place that is not only a place of refuge, but also of return. Spanning ideas of family and housing, "Nostalgia for the place of origin" in Sino-Korean is hyang-su (meaning “anxiety towards village” - 鄕愁); in English, it is homesick. The idiom "[s]urrounded by Chu songs" (四面楚歌) is recorded in Chohanji, the Chinese classic chronicling the Chu-Han Contention (206-202 BC). The idiom means “To be surrounded from all four directions”, but the story behind is that Chu soldiers sang songs which caused the Han soldiers to become nostalgic, ultimately deserting their posts to return home.
The story provides insight into the prevalence of this concept in history. So, home is far more than a residence. It is the space where social, cultural and historical contexts that have collectively formed around the structure are shared and symbolized.
When a structure is physically displaced from its cultural context, its original values are distorted or lost. In order to visually present the phenomenon of lost values in his exhibition, Jonggeon Lee displays original designs and motifs in distorted manner. He uses a CNC router (a computer-controlled cutting machine). This allows him to create completely symmetrical layouts, while recreating slightly imperfect details. Modern spaces are a common sight in Korea such as hotels, wedding halls and department stores; we see modes of spatial design introduced from the West. The decorative elements may seem natural; yet they are not relevant to the context of their original architecture. Once displaced from the organically-formed culture of a society in a specific place and time, only the outer appearance of the architecture is transposed, lacking its originality. As Lee's title suggests, “we are where we are not."
Q. What is the seed of your imagination?
Ever since I was a child, I have moved back and forth between Korea and the United States, experiencing different spaces that manifest different cultural forms. I have never lived in the same house for a long time. We moved frequently and it was through those constant changes in address that I noticed from the appearance of the homes. Theouter appearances of modern and contemporary styles of moved structures remained constant. This led me to think about the cultural context of time and space. Through my work, I present the space which is epitomized as home - not only as a space that is first and foremost one of personal experience, but also a sociocultural icon that is universally shared. In fact, although the presentation may be different, the ideas are not far removed from my past works. Architecture has always been an area of interest for me and my approach draws on culture aspect in general - not so much on any specific genre.
Q. What works or exhibitions do you envision in the future and are they linked to the context of culture and memory?
To me, an exhibition space is like a theater stage – a site where the whole can be imagined from seeing only a part. The installed fragments of furniture in the exhibition hall cause the audience to infer them in its whole form - or even the rest of the space where it might belong. Encountering an oddly familiar scene, the audience may feel something strangely unfamiliar.
“Home” summons spatial properties and furthermore, various characteristics of cultural context that define a function of time. As time passes, the society’s culture takes shape and collective memory is formed. The central motif of my works is to rouse recollections of those social memories through individual experience. That experience – and the strangeness of it - is not a new experience. It is “uncanny” (the Freudian concept of “unheimlich”) that comes from re-identifying what was thought to be familiar and unique.
Coming out of what once felt familiar, spatial and temporal dissonance presents an uncanny experience. In this context, time and space are absolutely relevant to culture and memory.
The central motif of my works is to rouse recollections of those social memories through individual experience. That experience – and the strangeness of it - is not a new experience. It is “uncanny” (the Freudian concept of “unheimlich”) that comes from re-identifying what was thought to be familiar and unique. - Jonggeon Lee -
Q. Carving decorative patterns into floorboards and installing them slightly above the level of the gallery floor – that is intentional, isn’t it? A floorboard that cannot be stepped on, that is a subject of fetishization, a consecrated relic.
Architecture, floorboards and carpets are similar in that they do a fine job of demonstrating de-contextualization and how it arises from a process of transplanting their appearance and style. The Persian carpet was once a common item in the New England region of the United States. The motif of these exotic Persian garden carpets is man-made gardens. Gardens are a historical emblem of utopia and that utopia was what man wanted to bring indoors, a more personal space. This was done through the flat surface of the indoor carpet. Carpets can be hung on the wall or laid on the floor for the purpose of decoration. Among all the architectural elements, I felt that the floorboards best revealed the passage of time. So I worked through an analogous relationship with the floorboards and installed in a way that they are discernibly elevated. Some visitors have asked if they can step on these floorboards, and I say “yes”. This worries the curators because the art work could be damaged or destroyed, but that way will satiate my intention reveal the passage of time to be even better realized.
Q. Do the works installed on the walls convey a similar message?
Yes. The patterns on the carpet are also on the wallpaper. Wallpaper, in particular, is an object that fades and disintegrates over time. Transplanted architectural styles, irrespective of the passage of time, lead us to different cultural contexts. extending this idea, I have created a fragmented model of architecture or a home, haning within a window frame or on the wall, presents the indoor looks to be the outdoor andstrategically creating a space that is neither inside, nor outside. It is an effort to restore the lost meaning, and hope to share that restoring process with the audience.
Engraving on Antique Hardwood Flooring, Pine, Plywood, Enamel Paint_180x378.5x7cm_2013
Engraving on Antique Hardwood Flooring, Pine, Plywood, Enamel Paint_180x378.5x7cm_2013
<We Are Where We Are Not>
Engraving on Antique Hardwood Flooring, Acrylic paint, Oak Molding, Pine, Plywood_272x160x13cm_2013
<Notes from in Between>
Pine, Maple, Print on Paper_82×82×70cm_2012
<Bridge of Paradise>
Engraving on Antique Hardwood Flooring_243 x 274 x 8cm_2010
Installation View: TOMORROW 2014 Exhibition
Jonggeon Lee received his MFA in Sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design and a BFA from Seoul National University. Lee’s experience of growing up in the different cultural spaces of Korea and the United States is the foundation of his work, which looks at the de-contextualization of cultural values. Lee has explored historical architecture and monuments displaced from their original site or context, with a particular interest in the unique nature of culture that is lost in the process of dislocation. His works come from his experiences and perceptions as an individual reflecting on the residential and architectural space of “home”, and its expansion into the wider context of society. Jonggeon Lee has held solo exhibitions including ‘Almost Home’ at the Seoul Kumho Museum in 2012, ‘I Was There’ at the New York Doosan Gallery in 2011, ‘Notes From In Between’ at the Hudson D. Walker Gallery (Provincetown, MA, U.S.) in 2011 and ‘Extraction’ at the Seoul Songeun Gallery in 2007. He has also participated in more than 20 group exhibitions including ‘Korean Eye: Energy and Matter’ at the Saatchi Gallery (London) in 2012, ‘B19’ at the Humanities Gallery (Long Island University, Brooklyn) in 2012, ‘Casting Memories’ at the New York ArtGate Gallery in 2011, and ‘Epilogue / On The Border’ at the Kyeonggi Museum of Modern Art in 2011. Jonggeon Lee was chosen as the 2012 Kumho Young Artist, and exhibited at the Kumho Art Museum. As of 2013, he has held a professorship in sculpture at the Seoul National University College of Fine Arts.