Yein Lee creates sculptures and paintings, which often appear between an organic and a mechanical form. Each work seems alive, sometimes rigid – yet often oozing, whilst appearing in an unworldly but familiar matter.
You recently had a show in Toulouse titled »Rejuvenate Body Order Now«. Can you tell us a bit about the concept of the show?
I was wondering how our body might change in the next few years, and how much technology we could equipped it with. I was imagining a society, in which unloved or missing body parts can be replaced at will without any hesitation. My further thoughts lead me to become aware of ablism, the uncomfortable connections between assembled bodies and the market and the economic value of artificial body parts, such as prothesis. In the exhibition, the body parts are growing in plastic seeds, or eggs, that I derived from an artificial womb. The sculptures are combined with sharp edges, flesh, and mechanic parts, sometimes hurting other matter. They started to grow more than they were supposed to. It’s not anymore just a part of a body, but becomes itself; but still a commodity.
Many of your sculptural works appear fragile and delicate when it comes to their aesthetic shape or form. A closer look reveals strong and durable materialities which creates a contrast between softness and strength.
My language is soft and organic, which is the reason why I wanted to have a certain opposition that could sharpen my words. Therefore, my choice of material ranges from metal, used car parts, flowers, costume jewelry and glue, to cables and plastic. I screw and fuse all these materialities to create my work. This process is based entirely on intuition. I tend to connect things by using lots of adhesive matter, eventually creating certain networks, and weaving systems between conflicting materialities. I like to use the expression »mixed feeling« for my sculptures. They show a state of emotions, a relative dynamic, and complexity.
Are the mechanical and organically materials in conflict with each other?
They become »a« body, belonging together. A motherboard gets fleshes, latex-skin get steel bone, flowers get cable stem.
One material that stands out to me are the spikes you use. They do not appear dangerous to me, still I get the feeling to keep my distance to the sculptures and paintings that kind of carry them.
These spikes in my work are ready-made fashion items I ordered from Amazon. They refer to past and current punk aesthetics, which I would describe as rebellious, but also presumptuous. Punks are more often the sweetest persons you’ll ever meet, even if their appearances may seem fearful at first. In the same manner as punks, my pieces have an ambivalent attitude. They can pretend to be fierce, but channel for something. For example, some tiny frogs can be extremely vivid and very poisonous at the same time. It’s an interesting mechanism, called aposematism. My works sends warning signals for awareness, just like a toxic frog.
How much do nature and its creatures influence your work?
I see my blood vessel as cables. I see the belly of the manufacturing factory as the belly of the whale. I see the Brachiosaurus as a tower crane.
Your work deals a lot with new technologies and their connection to our human body. What fascinates you in this context?
The latest show was inspired by Margaret Atwood’s »Maddaddam Trilogy« or Kim Cho-Yup’s »If We Can’t Move at the Speed of Light«, which is about how technology will shape the lives of others in the nuanced future – a cynical criticism with a hint of hope. This includes genetic engineering, artificial bodies, and improved humans, which I don’t see just as a human-body issue. Some dream of techno-utopia but the dream is often not someone else’s dream. I’ve been intrigued by grabbing junk and making a body out of it. So it’s also about outdated remnants of technology. Often monstrous, transgressive, and fluid, these bodies are questioning how we can move further in the concept of normality in bodily matter. However, I like to see them somehow charming in a fictional scene that I’ve built.
Do you refer to well-known theories on the subject when you formulate your criticism of new technologies and artificial bodies?
My work is not based on theory, but rather on assumptions, observations and my own experiences. I enjoy reading a lot and I am aware of debates that could be relevant for my topic. In this flow of the world, discourses and art are often naturally intertwined, after social change. I don’t think art should follow an ongoing discourse, but rather give impact to it. Instead of approaching theory, I usually open a box full of questions and images in my brain. Some images are as clear as a short video clip of sea anemone jumping around underwater, or a male jumping spider dancing so as not to be eaten by a female spider.
How close is your work related to the ideas of Science-Fiction that we find in literature or Hollywood movies today?
From my point of view, my work is closer to Speculative Fiction than a genre, but spiced up by fantasy, some elements of Sci-Fi and horror. I don’t make a distinction between one and the other. In my work, I reconstruct reality in order to deal with the problematic questions that we already face today and that were created by our own species.
You also curated exhibitions at non-commercial art spaces. Is this a contribution to support your local community or a general interest to of yours?
We grow all together in the end as an entity. Previously, I self-organized exhibitions and lately started curating shows. The artist-run space Loggia in Vienna gave me opportunities to do so. So far, I curated two solo exhibitions of Vienna-based artists, and a co-curated group show titled »I feel bôite« together with Ivan Pérard, which has shown mixed positions of international artists. My interest in new figuration sculptures stretched out in these curatorial projects. It was and is so exciting to create dynamics and share observations on artworks. It’s a way of sharing and stimulating different discourses to cultivate the scene. Both showing underrepresented local artists and bringing an international perspective will enable the development of the local art scene. We should always keep it running by bringing in a fresh perspective.