Lee Jungdong | Translucent Narrative

Published in Art Radar on May 16, 2016

Lee Jungdong, “Translucent Narrative”, installation view at KWANHOON Gallery Seoul, 11 May – 7 June 2016. Image courtesy the artist and KWANHOON Gallery, Seoul.

Seoul’s KWANHOON Gallery presents the solo exhibition of South Korean artist Lee Jungdong. The exhibition entitled “Translucent Narrative” will be on display on the second and third floor of the gallery and will be on view from 11 May until 7 June 2016.

Busan-based artist Lee Jungdong received his MFA in Painting from Hongik University, South Korea in 2014. Throughout his short career, he has exhibited in monumental exhibitions across his homeland, including at the Soma Drawing Center, Gana Insa Art Center, Somin Art Center, Busan Art Show and Hwarang Art Festival, among others. He won the prestigious Grand Award for painting and sculpture at the 39th Busan National Art Competition.

Lee Jungdong, ‘Forest 1, 2, 3’, 2014-2015, mixed media on vinyl, 550 x 180 cm, 3 pieces, detail. Image courtesy the artist and KWANHOON Gallery, Seoul.

Lee has created a very distinct visual language that incorporates mixed media like vinyl, acrylics, pens, ink and pencils in a diverse manner. The overlapping nature of his work alludes to the interconnectedness and overlaying nature of our existence, which is suspended between reality and virtuality.

Drawing from the conceptual nature of Nam June Paik’s embracement of multimedia technologies, Lee also envisions identity in a constant state of flux. Paik’s dictum of “I am always not what I am and I am always what I am not” resonates within the works of Lee. Paik’s works like TV Buddha become works that further the point of enquiry for Lee. In the digital age, the artist’s work questions the very nature of identity.

Lee Jungdong, “Translucent Narrative”, installation view at KWANHOON Gallery Seoul, 11 May – 7 June 2016. Image courtesy the artist and KWANHOON Gallery, Seoul.

Lee’s new body of works uses vinyl as the substratum, upon which he superimposes meticulous dots and lines. He first encountered a piece of creased vinyl with a pen scribble in the trashcan. For him, the scribble represented a scar and reminded him of the loss of his father to cancer. As a result of this personal affinity, he embraced the medium, meticulously experimenting with its tensility, tactility and fragility, to make diaphanous works that merged hand drawings with computer-generated images.

In the press release of the exhibition, Mia Jung, Guest Curator of KWANHOON gallery writes:

The digital world is illusory which makes the impossible possible and allows people to achieve any fantasy. In his interview in Busan, Lee mentioned the risk factor involving the illusion of the digital. For the next generation, emails and text messages are more convenient than physical encounters. He relates and links the digital world to the physical. Like the post-war Abstract Expressionists, who used art as a method of dealing with the trauma of World War 2, Lee too uses his art to deal with the existentialism of the digital age.

Lee Jungdong, ‘Forest 1’, 2014-2015, mixed media on vinyl, 550 x 180 cm. Image courtesy the artist and KWANHOON Gallery, Seoul.

The marked patterns in the works eschew recognition and are surreal mindscapes that draw from varying sources, including architecture and organic forms. The multiplicity of layers adds to the illusory quality of the imagery. This kind of abstraction renders the canvas translucent, partially obscuring the vinyl substratum, covering it with delicate forms.

Lee’s imagery is preoccupied with visualising the virtual space and the surplus of digital stimuli in the form of images. His working process consists of a two-stage process. In the first stage, he combines digital imagery, incorporating both images found online and saved on the computer. When his computer can no longer save more images, his overlapped drawing work is completed. Next, he transfers each of the layers onto the vinyl.

Lee Jungdong, ‘Fabricated Tree’, 2013, mixed media on vinyl, 295 x 130 cm, 3 pieces. Image courtesy the artist and KWANHOON Gallery, Seoul.

It is the layering process that is at the centre of Lee’s practice. By overlapping digital images collected from the computer with hand drawn lines, he examines the nature and relationship between analogue and digital. Over the years, his layering process has become more elaborate and complex, often incorporating multifold layers. According to the artist:

The work Multiplication/Layering conveys the meaning of digital/analog. The most distinctive aspect of my work is the overlaying of multiple layers, which I draw daily on a computer or by hand as if writing a diary. Through this work, I explore thoughts in regards to a fantasy evoked by the gap between a virtual space (digital) and a reality, as well as the essence that is constantly changing in between virtuality and reality.

Lee Jungdong, ‘POSE (Or)’, 2013, mixed media on vinyl, 160 x 190 cm. Image courtesy the artist and KWANHOON Gallery, Seoul.

Lee’s works also examine the dichotomous relationship between identity when it’s suspended in the virtual realm vis-à-vis the identity when it is operating in reality. In the titles of his works, he uses self-referential words – ‘look’, ‘pose’, ‘manipulation’ and ‘scar’ – that allude to the sense of identity. His working method also involves the use of both sides of the vinyl canvas. On one side, he superimposes digital imagery, while the other side of the canvas reinterprets the digital via hand-sketched line drawings.

The two identities – man and machine are explored and unravelled. However, despite this, his work also points to the fundamentally non-revelatory nature of identity. Lee states:

They create physical volume and a sense of reality, revealing the relationship between a machine and myself. “Drawing is like a backbone of art, so one can see the thoughts of the artist or depth of the work only by looking at their drawings.” (Hwagol, Kim, Dong-hwa, 2007).

Lee Jungdong, ‘POSE 1’, 2014, mixed media on vinyl, 160 x 130 cm. Image courtesy the artist and KWANHOON Gallery, Seoul.

His drawings itself are primordial, employing the basic dots and lines. The lines allude to the structural backbone of any drawing, while the dots recall the pixel in the digital image. Elaborating on this, Lee continues:

These pixels form an image by means of expanding and spreading in the same manner as cells. This image (drawing) of the digital world does not have a fixed frame nor a front or back.

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