The South Korean artist Lee Bul’s latest exhibition at the Hayward Gallery is both a political, and architectural spectacle. The exhibition entitled, “Crashing” centres around themes of the body, the aesthetic, and how societal’s need or desire for perfection can often lead to its own destruction.
Immediately upon arrival we jump straight into a dream like landscape filled with alien space suits, cyborgs, multi-dimensional structures, soundscapes, and even a giant sized ‘metalized’ zeppelin balloon.
I’ve seen my fair share of playful transformations of the Hayward Gallery over the years, from the heady hues of ‘Light Show‘ in 2013, that balloon ball bit at Martin Creed’s, “What’s The Point Of It?” in 2014, and not forgetting the experimental environments and infamous slide of Carsten Höller’s, “Decision” in 2015.
There is always such a thoughtful use of the space, and in Lee Bul’s latest exhibition, featuring over 100 works, the same again can be said. Even down to her exterior installation, “Weep into stones‘ (2017-2018) a site specific artwork of fine steel wire, crystal, and glass which contrasts greatly to the concrete brutalist tomb of the gallery’s facade.
For Lee Bul much of her work, specifically her sculpture not only tells a story, but it has a life of its own. Many of her materials are made from organisms such as silk, mother of pearl, and crystal, as she explains in more depth in the exhibition’s programme, “I choose what I work with carefully, everything has connotations, stories”. For a lot of her sculptures she frequently pairs, “something masculine next to something feminine, solid, with reflective, flexible with inflexible”, indicative of the need for balance in all that we do both personally, and sociologically.
The pieces that stood out the most to me were, ‘Heaven and Earth‘, (2007) which refers quite specifically to tragic events in Korea’s past, with the death and torture of a student protestor in a bath tub in 1987. The dank, and grimy looking giant sized bath tub, filled to the brim with a murky blue ink, topped with icy peaks makes you question; What indeed is lurking in the depths? What is being hidden from view?
Theatre and performance plays a big part in Lee Bul’s body of work. Alongside her ‘Cravings‘ Series in Room one where soft form sculptures hang from the ceiling of the gallery, and much of her video installation work on display in Room two including; ‘Forever III‘ (2001) and ‘Abortion‘ (1989) Lee Bul also creates performance and interactivity in the form of a soundscape in Room three with her glittering cocoon like structure entitled ‘Bunker (M.Bakhtin)‘ (2007/12) where visitors can enter inside, and create a myriad of sounds the cavernous hollowed shell. The programme tells us that the, “work’s title refers to Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian literary critic and philosopher who argued that our identity – never fixed – is defined by our relationship to the world around us.” And in Lee Bul’s case what a world that would be.
Even, ‘Willing to Be Vulnerable – Metalized Balloon‘ (2015/16) in Room four is synonymous with the Hindenburg disaster of 1937, where 96 passengers perished in a horrific fire. The Zeppelin, which at the time was seen as a symbol of the future and hope, will forever be immortalised as a tragedy in the history books of time.
I really enjoyed the historic references in the form of timelines positioned on the wall of Room two, and Room four, highlighting the politic and social unrest of the time, dating back to the 1960s around the time when Lee Bul was born up until the present day. For me it helped to bring everything together, and act as a reference point for much of her work.
Lee Bul : Crashing runs until the 19th of August. Tickets are priced £14.50. Hayward Gallery, London: Hours11am-7pm (closed Tuesdays), Thursday until 9pm, Address, Hayward Gallery, Belvedere Road | South Bank Centre, London SE1 8XZ.