Magazine article Sculpture

Hunting for Stone

Magazine article Sculpture

Hunting for Stone

Article excerpt

A Conversation with Lee Ufan

A fascinating book published in 2014 by the Fondazione Mudima in Milan documents Lee Ufan's wanderings through the environs of Lombardy in search of stones-boulders, in fact-to be used as components in his "Relatum" series, along with plates of steel. The photographs reveal the artistic expression behind the confrontation with these large elements. From Lee's perspective, stones are not inanimate, but fully alive and resonant. They are part of nature, just like grass, trees, and mountain streams. Stones represent time, and by representing time, they become the basis of an extended history that exceeds the millennia of human beings on earth.

Lee is a remarkable theorist not only of his own practice, but also of two major movements in which he played a central role, namely, the Mono-ha (School of Things) group from the late 1960s in Japan and the Dansaekhwa (Monochrome) group from the late 1970s in Korea. The last several years have been particularly busy for Lee. In 2014, his work brought a new perspective to the formal gardens of Versailles, and last year the Busan Museum of Art honored him with a major retrospective. He also opened a new museum, Space Lee Ufan, near his hometown in Busan. His work was included in the major Mono-ha exhibition at the Fondazione Mudima in Milan; in Venice, the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac hosted an exhibition of major installation works ("Relatum") and paintings ("Dialogues") in conjunction with its Dansaekhwa show. Concurrently, Lee held his first exhibition of new work at Pace Gallery in New York since 2008.

A recipient of Japan's Praemium Imperiale (2001) and the Chevalier award in France (where he has also lived and worked for much of his career), Lee is a truly global artist who has effectively merged Eastern and Western ideas-not in a superficial, stylistic manner, but through clear insight into the deep structures that support their aesthetic histories. At a time when names and prices threaten to lead art away from qualitative standards, his work offers a ray of hope that art is about more than auctions, fairs, and parties. It is about the reality of how we see, think, and experience the world in its larger perspective, and about how nature informs our thinking and our feelings about art.*

Robert C. Morgan: In addition to the material components and physical placement of your work, is there a dematerialized aspect?

Lee Ufan: I used to use many materials in my works, but lately, I have been focusing on stones and steel plates. Stones represent nature, and steel plates are what industrialism produced using the materials extracted from stones. With these, I intend for a dialogue to take place between industrialism and nature. It's not about simply placing stones and steel plates next to each other, but rather where and how you place them and make them correspond to each other and create a harmony.

Stones are lumps of time that date back even longer than the earth. A lump of time is a lump of life in some sense. Steel plates extracted from stones are the product of industrial society; people usually think of them as being inorganic and dead, but I don't really agree. Depending on how you relate them to certain places and how you orient them (whether they are placed flat or standing up), lots of different effects are created. People like to talk about spiritual aspects when these effects or impressions are made, but rather than spirituality, I would call it the vibration of life in the universe and nature. In my sculptures, the object itself is not the most important thing-what is important is the relationship between the object and the space, which creates a certain energy and vitality, enabling the viewer to feel a stronger spirituality or vibration of life. Normally, sculptures are there to be looked at, but the most important thing about my sculpture is that it's not an object to be merely looked at. Instead, it involves a stream of life, beyond the object and the space, originating from many different kinds of relationships between the objects and space. …

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