Past & Present: An Awkward Reunion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 October, 2010, 12:00am

Amelia Johnson Contemporary
Oct 28 to Nov 27

South Korean artist Lee Sang-hyun's photographic and video montages are full of opposites: past and present, East and West, rational and irrational, male and female, nature and industrialisation. They also reflect the many dilemmas his country - and the artist - have faced in the past.

'The Korean modernisation process has been extremely rapid, even violent in some aspects, taking the country from the third to the first world in just one generation,' says independent curator Cristina Recupero.

'There's been foreign occupation and wars, and a collapse of traditional culture under the impact of [Westernisation]. Lee's videos and photographs seem to personify this.'

His latest exhibition (including Tears of Fallen Blossoms, above) at Amelia Johnson Contemporary gallery - his first solo show in Hong Kong - continues to explore the social and political tensions created by these dichotomies through colours and humour.

'Humour and satire are essential to Lee's projects and are manifested through his own persona, in what could be interpreted as self-mockery,' says Recupero.

'Like Alfred Hitchcock, Lee makes appearances in his works. Wearing a black suit and sunglasses, he can pop up as a miniature in a corner of a video or photograph, be found fishing or flying around his pictures with butterfly wings.'

The butterfly is a metaphor for transformation.

Lee started his artistic career in 1988 and by 1995 was named one of the most important Korean artists of his generation. In 1997 he played the lead in a film titled Lie (1999), about the sadomasochistic relationship between a sculptor (Lee) and a high school girl.

'When this film came out, it was banned from Korean theatres and Lee experienced fame, criticism and misfortune,' says Recupero.

He temporarily withdrew from the art world, returning in 2004 with a new approach to his art practice.

'Where his previous work was mostly installation-based and forward-looking, in his recent pieces he decided to focus on photography and the moving image to explore and depict a 'futuristic past'. They best provide him with the tools to reflect and explore questions related to artifice and reality, to what is revealed and what is concealed,' says Recupero.

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