Portable Landscape on the Move By Gim Jun-gi
2011-04-23 02:41:30 , Tuesday

LEE Min Ho works on photography through a concise-style narrative based on literary imagination. The narrative depicts a chain of subtle differences in daily routines rather than a meta-narrative structure with dramatic reversion. In Portable Landscape, LEE rearranges urban environments with her intuition and lingering attention mostly to unattended areas like humid corner, thus revealing snapshots of industrialized society, and uncovering principles of life from déjà vu like serene scenery. LEE leads the viewer to imagine the whole by showing partial elements. This is true to depicting human bodies or urban environment as well. On the canvas of An Anonymous Portrait, LEE intends to portray a dead pan face below eyes which is given a close-up. The exclusion of eyes as the basic contributor of facial features, makes an effect of creating unfamiliarity in its composition as well as pursuing for an unusual aesthetic expression through the enormous size. These series provides the viewer with the quality of being unusual as if they were confronted with the highly magnified partial features of unexpressive face. The obscured canvas with highlighted nose and lips gives a deeper taste of richness in anonymity.

      After years of paintings exaggerating facial parts and bodies without faces, LEE extended it into the realm of photography. Uncertain ID Photo series incorporates from lower face to mid-thighs mainly with the trunk of human body. This series chooses an opposite path against the intended practical purpose of identification photographs.  The obscured ID photos which get unidentifiable due to the absence of eyes paradoxically uncovers the way how a photograph proves an identification of a person. Furthermore it shows the way how the left parts without critical clue could be reconstructed into a new imagination. LEE's visual language effectively suggests snapshot of contemporaries discerning identification of subjects with insufficient leads. LEE undertook the job of intentionally imperfect representation with the interest in ID photos. Taking pictures of lower face addresses the reality of network era in which communication is achieved not by face to face but by densely structured anonymity. 'NON FACTURE', a label by the subject telling the quality of photos is not acceptable, raised her questions about how photographic representations are socially permissible and established as  communication system.
      Through the camera angle, LEE persistently incorporates urban landscape of which outlines are obscured, thus making facial features indiscernible. Offering the scenery of buildings and apartments in Beaugrenelle, Paris, the exhibition of urban project in Saint-Syprien Museum of Contemporary Art, We Live Here, featured dwarfed human beings in contrast to enormous city blocks. Factory towers belching out clouds of smoke show full time operation of cities. LEE stated, "There is another world beyond the camera angle. It is a single spot in a city that I want to show others and is carefully chosen by myself. The city is inhabited by normal people just like myself, and composed of state-of-the-art buildings made with cold and dry metals, glasses, and cement. The seemingly comforts of modern life often betray natural and desirable contacts with neighbors. The less distant we become with the help of technology, the less opportunities we share warmth. Nobody dares to topple the iron-clad wall between the buildings. This world feels to me close yet distant and strange." These understanding and perceptions are shown in the series dealing with Ilsan and Yongsan, Korea. Capturing unfamiliar sites of people in the subway of urban space, LEE finds 'this place we live in' being surrounded by invisible walls.

      Portable Landscape series rearranges the weave of time and space from the perspective of camera lens. This work is composed of three steps. To begin with, the artist makes a print of images of natural scenes and human figures with the background of urban sites. Next, she inserts the printed photograph into the lid of portable bag and installs lawn inside. The last step is her taking photographs after the shift of locations from place to place. It features the combination of photography and installation, as well as double structure of photo inside photo. As if it were a frame novel having a narrative within a narrative, LEE intends to illuminate the way urban elements are woven. Most of the series incorporate factory chimneys viewed from the window of her studio in Paris. These landscapes of Paris encounter with strange spaces such as concrete constructions, inner spaces, abandoned wastes and so on. They are all accompanied by soft new-born grass. This interweaving of heterogeneous elements within a single cut serves as a tactic for portraying the contemporary in the visual language imbued with her own perception. Portrait of everyday routines, which transcends temporal and spatial bounds, is enabled by a frame narrative and journeys carrying a camera bag.

      It is notable that LEE takes analogue way of arranging images instead of digital composition. During the whole process of attaining the resulting works, the artist grows lawn in a box, pastes photo, locates them at the site and takes pictures. The final result does not make a big difference from an output by digital composition. LEE, however takes upon herself in a myriad of performing process of taking photographs, making prints, pasting, growing, transferring, locating and taking photographs again. Addressing the relationships between image and reality, between landscape within the camera bag and real landscape, and between the final print image and two previous realities, LEE repeats her unique delicacy in critical selection. For instance, the coexistence of disparate elements is found in cases of picture box containing abandoned steels vs. the inner landscape of vase, clock and table, recycleable wastes vs. living room with detailed lace embroidery, factory vs. bed, and elegant living room vs. flat bench in forlorn street. On the other hand, there are direct and indirect associations between the figure from behind with the background of the grass in Imjingak as photo image and real lawn grass, between hospital bed and weedy grass, between apartment complexes and living room and so on. These encounters between two opponents suggest a clue in understanding LEE's aesthetic intuition revealed through physical implementations.

      Supplying unparalleled perspectives ranging from materials to process, LEE creates something distinguishable from others. Especially the recent works are accompanied with the quality of documentary and the act of performing and installing. Encompassing a broad range of art such as painting, photography, installation and so on is involved with her stress on themes and expressions, rather than media. This adaptibility and flexibility in mind is justified by the characteristics of art where experiments of visual language are fostered. Appropriation of the vocabulary of ID photo assists the creation of imperfect ID photo. Portrait of urban scenery is represented by the wriggling clouds of smoke as a by-product of urban system. In other words, the captured figure and urban space avoids representation of actual presence and reconstructs real images using inappropriate expressions. Keeping LEE's works alive and vivid as aesthetic language is entirely derived from her stress on the context of unpractical statement rather than practical record. It leads the viewer to double check LEE's works in pursuits for her depth in analysis and new perspective in interpretation. Listening to the newly constructed narratives by the combinations of diversified elements is open to the viewer with his or her own framework of understanding as well as the artist and an art theorist. The genuine attraction of LEE's photos lies in her gaining sympathy from the audience sharing a variety of sensibility around living quarters.
Gim Jun-gi is an art critic and part-time professor in Kyunghee University.(www.gimjungi.net)

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