Lee Myoung-ho’s Artistic Progress Presents ‘Alienation Effect’

Ji Young Huh
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A column that helps you understand Korean contemporary art

The nickname for artist Lee Myoung-ho is ‘Tree Artist.’ This is because of the Tree Series, the starting point of the ‘Photography-Act project’ that encompasses his overall work. These works, which set up a canvas behind a tree, have become the signature of Lee Myoung-ho. His work originated from the idea that “the canvas alone can be an art.” In an interview, he said, “It seems like a simple work, but there are many viewpoints and layers in it, and various interpretations are possible for the result.”

If you look closely at Lee Myoung-ho’s work, you may be confused whether the tree and space beyond the surface of the picture are real or fictional. It’s an ‘alienation effect.’ In other words, you experience unfamiliarity paradoxically in a familiar and ordinary-looking landscape. That’s what German playwright Bertolt Brecht said. By looking at everyday objects from an external perspective, it is intended to reveal a new aspect of what is familiar.

Tree #18_2_4, 2021. Image ⓒ Lee Myoung-ho.
Tree #18_2_4, 2021. Image ⓒ Lee Myoung-ho.

Lee’s work deals with real objects and spaces but creates confusion, as if they were manipulated by miniatures. Looking at the Tree Series, it is difficult to easily detect the size or distance of the tree with a minimized landscape that leaves only essential elements. In short, it is visual disturbance. He reveals this by using the original properties of photographs, not by exaggeration or devious perspective, but by choice and recording of real objects. This is obviously a new and different experience. The trees in the field that were not recognized due to the so-called ‘inattentional blindness’ (a phenomenon of overlooking things in sight) suddenly appear prominent due to the canvas and are separated from the landscape. This experience is surprising because it is reproduced entirely using photographs, not colors and shapes.

“Among my works largely categorized as Tree, Mirage, Heritage, [and] Nothing But, the Tree Series has been the most introduced to the audience so far. The first category of ‘reproduction’ is linked to the Tree Series where canvas is spread behind an outdoor tree and photographs are taken. The second category of ‘reenactment’ is linked to the Mirage Series, which creates images of the sea and oasis by spreading a large canvas on the desert floor. And the third category of ‘between or beyond’ is linked to the Nothing But that scratches the surface of a photograph with ink on it and makes it an image that leaves nothing.”

– On August 11, 2021, in an interview between critic Sungho Kim and Lee Myoung-ho

If you want to experience Lee Myoung-ho’s work, which is vivid and evolved now, I recommend visiting the 2022 Jeju Biennale, which is currently being held on Jeju Island. Experimental works that take a step further from the image of Nothing But are on display. It is a work that reveals a long thought process from an artist.

Left: Color_Mandarin #1_Jeju Biennale, Installation View 2, 2022. Right: Color_Mandarin #1_Jeju Biennale, Installation View 3, 2022. Image ⓒ Lee Myoung-ho.
Left: Color_Mandarin #1_Jeju Biennale, Installation View 2, 2022. Right: Color_Mandarin #1_Jeju Biennale, Installation View 3, 2022. Image ⓒ Lee Myoung-ho.

This work fully records the long time and actions of the process of coloring a huge canvas with grapes and tangerines. The Photography-Act project has begun another experiment after reaching the huge eight-meter-high canvas work presented at the Jeju Biennale. The process and time of repeated dyeing and drying are accumulated, so the tangerine-colored canvas is on an ambiguous boundary, as if it were a sculpture or an installation. The olfactory stimulus that touches the tip of the nose with a subtle citrus scent is a bonus. If you stand in front of this large canvas, which is subtle but hard to resist, you’ll be overwhelmed for a while. Where does the artist’s imagination and thoughts surrounding the canvas head? I recommend you the pleasure of looking at his progressive artistic moves.

This is the second part of a series on Lee Myoung-ho. Check on Part One on Auction Daily.

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Ji Young Huh
Ji Young Huh
Korean Art market observer & columnist

Ji Young Huh is a Korean Art market observer & columnist, having been working in art field since 2002.

2002년부터 미술 분야에 종사하고 있는 한국 미술시장 관찰가이자 칼럼니스트이다.

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