Lee Bul transformed Hayward Gallery into a spectacular dream-like landscape featuring monstrous bodies, futuristic cyborgs, glittering mirrored environments and an exquisitely surreal monumental foil Zeppelin.
Bringing together more than 100 works from the late 1980s to the present day, this exhibition explored the full range of Lee Bul’s pioneering and thought-provoking practice, from provocative early performances to recent large-scale installations that attempt to get our body and our brain ‘working at the same time, together’.
For the past three decades, Lee Bul has drawn on diverse sources that include science fiction, visionary architecture and personal experience, whilst making use of deliberately clashing materials that range from silk and mother of pearl to fibreglass and silicone. At the core of her most recent work is an investigation into landscape, which for the artist includes the intimate landscape of the body, ideal or fictional landscapes and the physical world that surrounds us.
This exhibition coincided with Hayward Gallery’s 50th Anniversary in July. In her ambitious site-specific installation Weep into stones (2017–18), Lee Bul responded to both the fabric of the Hayward and its radical design by draping the gallery in a shimmering curtain of fine steel wire, crystal and glass.
The Lee Bul exhibition was generously supported by The Korea Foundation, Swarovski and The Henry Moore Foundation.
Born in South Korea in 1964 to leftist parents at odds with the authoritarian government then in power, Lee Bul spent much of her childhood fleeing persecution and moving between temporary homes. Often feeling like an outsider in these new environments, she found relief in drawing and in making.
In 1984, Lee Bul enrolled at Hongik University in Seoul to study sculpture, where she also developed an interest in theatre. In 1987, she graduated from art school and founded Museum, a loose collective of artists and musicians. She presented her first public performance in 1988 and continued to produce provocative performance works involving her own body for the following decade.
In 1997, Lee Bul was invited to exhibit Majestic Splendor – a work consisting of rows of sequinned, decomposing fish – at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. A year later she was selected as a finalist for the Hugo Boss Prize by the Guggenheim Museum, New York, where she presented her influential Cyborg series for the first time. In 1999, she became the first woman to represent Korea at the Venice Biennale.
Since then, Lee Bul has had major solo exhibitions at museums and galleries across the world, including the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2002), Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris (2007), Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012), MUDAM, Luxembourg (2013), the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2014) and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2014). She lives and works in Seoul, from a hilltop studio overlooking the city below.
The Lee Bul exhibition at Hayward Gallery was generously supported by The Korea Foundation, Swarovski and The Henry Moore Foundation.