2015-06-30 22:40:17 , Monday
“I did not remember myself, that which did remember did not come from me.”
-Awaiting, Oblivion (L'Attentel'oubli) by Maurice Blanchot
I want to understand me, enlighten me, make known me, get me hugged, and someone to
-A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes
We are well aware that creation is derived from life. Life is the forum of force majeure where all is not done as we have planned. Artistic creation is not a mere action of producing images but the moment of one’s will to endeavor some introspection or a time of elemental agony. Roland Barthes explains that we just unveil images and cannot reach a true work of reflectivity through a feeling of love. One who falls in love wants to introspect something through love but he or she seems to always fail. One who falls in love is one who gleans images representing memories. A way Barthes observes love is similar to that of love. The theme to which an artist pays attention is found at the center of the scene but we display our concern to something captured in its periphery. Is life that we take note of objects that have nothing to do with us while wandering the periphery?
As such, Lee Minho’s photographs derive from the surroundings she wanders. To the artist, a photograph is the background of her life, an element of all creation, a record of the place where she stays and the landscape she sees: “a symbol of her memory.” The elements of memories accumulated are rearranged in her photographic scenes, unfurling another world. “Portable landscape,” a principal concept of her art is not an image stemming from one-off fragments of memories but an imaginary scene created through an interweave of her everyday scenes and the images of places she discovered by chance on her journey.
Lee Minho is known as a photographer in Korea but she worked as a painter when studying in Paris. Unlike her photographs, Lee’s paintings aroused a rather gloomy, heavy atmosphere, applied with achromatic colors. Lee made a turnaround from painting to photography in the late 1990s, while changing her work’s atmosphere considerably. In her painting work she was consistently absorbed in rather blunt questions concerning ideal existence. After naturally changing her primary medium to photography however, her work’s composition appears multilayered and her palette becomes diversified. As she did not take any formal photography education, her option of angles and locations is not confined by any regulation. While capturing her surroundings, escaping from any ideal consideration of painting, Lee has naturally put focus on figures and landscapes. Interesting is her intentional cutting of the upper parts of faces in her paintings and photographs. This is to get rid of a figure’s individuality and instead emphasize anonymity, but in her photography this composition allows viewers to grasp photographic subjects by their bodies or clothing.
Lee’s landscape photographs are not defined by the concept of “pittoresque” but can be referred to as collages of the fragments of landscapes. Her way of recomposing part not whole or some parts of an entire scene is like a process of cutting and putting together parts of the scenes of her studio, a hotel room where she stayed, and the indoor of an abandoned building.
Her collages of landscapes in her photographs deterritorialize a place’s identity. The landscapes broken into pieces can be seen as clues to diverse places or materials for the concept of landscapes. These materials are connected to other landscapes running away to other places, escaping from their original context. As previous time meets posterior time, and past memories are interwoven with present memories, Lee’s photographs form ritornelli by displacing impossible realities and layering time and memory. In this exhibition So Endlessly, the Labyrinth-Ariadne’s Thread, Lee presents factories, factory chimneys and the emitted smoke she has often featured as the backgrounds of her photos as the mediums of the earth, air, and the sky.
A skein of thread is inserted into the common clue she discovered in previous time. The smoke puffed out from the chimney of a factory that turns out energy and products through its incessant movements is an object of criticism by sociologists or environmentalists but may be seen as the motive power for survival or the condition of life by poets. The skein of thread standing for life and connection seems to guide us somewhere between bluish gray air and wriggling ash-colored smoke. What’s significant is not any expanded interpretation of the signifiers or any mystical semantics, but to examine how the artist has constructed a patchwork of unfolded time and memory.
Ritornelli of photo collage
Deterritorialized time and memory are reterritorialized within a photo collage scene. This does not generate any new memory or intimate any specific theme. Rather noteworthy is how visual clues elicited from reality are reterritorialized in the scene. Lee’s images, memories, and times in her photographs are of a world composed of things taken out from different contexts. One of the hallmarks of “formative” photographs of our time is to create unexpected objects or places by digitally processing original images such as cutting and recombining them with Photoshop. Photographs today intend to represent an imaginary world that is more realistic than the real in such “formative” photographs. Visual spectacles in the world where the vague boundaries between reality and imagination become blurred seem to claim the possibilities of photography over painting. In fact, photography has long vied with painting. In contrast, Lee Minho seems comparatively free from the debate on such subjective medium of art as a painter-turn-photographer. She does not make any effort to create a complete imaginary world. Rather, she seems to expand her pictorial attitude by using photographic technique. This is an approach indifferent to a long-standing competition between painting and photography. And yet, it cannot be interpreted that she does painting with photography.
We can pose questions such as “Does painting mean to create something with canvas and paint?” and “Can we meet the requirements of painting simply with something material without mentioning any different between figuration and abstraction?” So does time. Is taking photos with a camera and printing them to meet the requirements of photography? These questions demand our philosophical thought. An act of painting and photographing are the fundamentals of creation. If considering them in the dimensions of pictorial or photographic thoughts, such acts cannot be distinguished only with the attributes of mediums. Examples are Bernd and Hilla Becher who won a sculpture prize at the Venice Biennale, Robert Longo who tried to interpret the dimension of sculpture photographically with his figure photographs featuring writhing persons, and Wolfgang Tillmans who attained the results of his experiments similar to minimalist painting only with the relation between printing paper and light.
A medium is nothing but a device, not depending on any classification system. If so, Lee’s photographs can be interpreted as a deterritorialization of the medium of photography anchored in pictorial thought. Her works are not a perfect imaginary world created through the gleaning and reconstruction of photographic fragments but the ritornelli filled with her memories in the heterogeneous space-time arranged with fragments of anonymous places and individual life. Unlike Surrealist paintings in which heterogeneous elements form the world, such factors can be interpreted as the means to reveal each existence in her work. That is, we can more properly explain that she has endeavored to deterritorialize her art from painting to photography to approach closer to herself with the materials such as rhythm and intensity.
We understand what Blanchot said, “I did not remember myself, that which did remember did not come from me.” as that memories in no way speak to us. The ritornelli of memories that sound like a song are perhaps stimulated by the emergence of unintended events. Lee may draw out her chance memories from her photo albums. The elements (elements of creation) that are rearranged repetitively, such as plants that help her overcome the boredom and solitude in life, curiosity about an empty house she met on her journey, and backgrounds captured by chance appear in her oeuvre like a recurring song. Philosopher Shin Seung-cheol alludes that “We can realize that the time of our lives is not linear, tedious, and repetitive but a good mix of diverse harmonies from different beings through the concept of ritornelli.” This is an act of occupying her own territory in an uncanny world we are familiar yet appear unfamiliar as if a child acquires a territory repetitively with familiar everyday materials.