Haiminsun Lee

The Inanimate Subjects

Haiminsun Lee

Haiminsun Lee’s works are set in desolate places. In fact, they are so desolate that it almost seems wrong to even call them places: an empty wilderness, with water collecting in pits where the ground has caved in and high ridges, sharp cliffs, and huge piles of red earth blocking out the background. Some works feature animal shapes made from abandoned branches, artificial flowers, or discarded plastic bags and cords, while others are occupied solely by plain lumps of red earth. The sense of desolation, which inevitably evokes the inner mind of the artist, forms the primitive aura of the stage where her pictorial narrative unfolds.

Most of the works in this exhibition, entitled The Inanimate Subjects, come from three of Lee’s series: Cast (2013), Inanimate (2013–2017), and Where the Man Who Lost His Golden Tooth Was Headed (2018). First, Cast comprises portraits of elderly strangers that the artist painted in Stuttgart, Germany in 2013. Labeled with implicative phrases, such as “someone who has not talked with me,” the blurred, ghost-like faces of the subjects convey a strong sense of psychological distance and isolation. Second, the Inanimate series includes oil paintings of inanimate objects (e.g., a stone, a piece of concrete piece, a discarded object, etc.), each rendered on paper in the style of a portrait and propped up with dry branches. Third, the Where the Man Who Lost His Golden Tooth Was Headed series consists of landscapes of metaphorical scenes, painted with graphite and oil. Stones piled up like mountains are prominently featured, dwarfing any human figures who might be present. In one painting, two people in the foreground seem to be fighting over something, while others show people dodging one another’s fists or falling on the ground.

As the exhibition title indicates, both the objects and people featured in the works of The Inanimate Subjects have distinct personalities, yet also seem to be excluded from personality. In Lee’s portraits of the elderly, the subjects gaze out from the image with blank, unfocused looks, as if having lost their detailed and corporeal expressions to become like the rocks and fragments of concrete. In the installation works, individual inorganic items are depicted like people, in the manner of a portrait, but the works are tenuously supported by dried twigs inserted into a Styrofoam stand. Finally, the paintings of heaps of rocks often look empty, until two tiny people appear, fighting an uphill battle, almost indistinguishable from the rocks. By losing his golden tooth amongst the rocks, the man has also lost his subjecthood. As art critic Soyeon Ahn noted, the two people have a fruit and a stone on their brawling arms, perhaps representing the final hope for redemption for those who flicker between organic life and mineral existence.

Lee’s paintings resonate with her impressive skills with the brush. She masterfully expresses the translucence and compressed emotion of her empty places through a variety of innovative techniques, such as using swift brushstrokes of light paint to express the barren surface of the earth or repeatedly stirring the paint into foam to capture the texture of soil. Her spaces remind us of dramatic headlines relating to war, disaster, fear, expulsion, alienation, and loss, eventually evincing a time zone from which humans have disappeared. All that is left is a frighteningly realistic dystopia, inhabited by only a few beings and non-beings. In Haiminsun Lee’s works, it is the worldview revealed by the pictorial texture that is most significant.

Artistic Director Jinsang Yoo

I stared at one particular area for a long time, without quite knowing what I was looking at. On the elbow between the two people are what appears to be a piece of fruit and a pebble, painted with the same size as if to strike a balance. Looking at this surprising form, which was neatly and carefully placed where it was least expected, I could not help but feel sorrow for the utter futility of these people, completely isolated and trying so desperately to balance these tiny objects. This led me to imagine the back of the artist as she paced in front of the image, endlessly picking up and putting down the brush and pencil, eventually deciding to delicately add a fruit and pebble on the elbow. What was her intention? She must have been looking for this place—a place she visited as an artist, a distant and unknown place where vulnerable forces intersect, which is deeply imbued with profound emptiness that is not easy to perceive.

from “About What She Is Looking for and What I Am Seeing, and the Weight and the Texture of a Void” by Soyeon Ahn (art critic)

Haiminsun Lee
b. 1977
Solo Exhibitions
2021 Decoy, Perigee Gallery, Seoul
2018 Outside, Gallery SoSo, Paju
2017 The Mass, Place MAK, Seoul
2015 The Weight of the Skin, Hapjungjigoo, Seoul
2013 Water and Steamed Rice, Amadoyeasul Space, Seoul
2011 The Half-dead Things_The Tracing Rope: Painting, Dr. Park Gallery, Gyeonggido
The Half-dead Things_Planta Erectus: Drawing, Nonbat Gallery, Heyri
2010 The Half-dead Things_Planta Erectus: Drawing, Nanji Gallery of Nanji Residency Studio, Seoul
2009 The Half-dead Things_Machine: Drawing, Geumunwha Gallery, Seoul
2008 The Half-dead Things_Juice: Drawing, Gallery Doll, Seoul
2006 Transitory Special Transformation: Drawing and Movie, Gallery King, Seoul
2005 Pink and Pig: Installation and Movie, Alternative Space HUE, Seoul
2004 Solo Exhibition of an Artist Who Is Not Famous: Drawing and Movie, Gallery Chang, Seoul
Duo Exhibitions
2020 Sincere Scenery, Haiminsun Lee & Choi Eunkyung, Gyobo Art Space, Seoul
Flesh, Body, Walls, Haiminsun Lee & Jeong Jeongyeop, Gallery SOSO, Paju
2012 Variations, Haiminsun Lee & Yang Jeongwook, Project Space Sarubia, Seoul
Selected Group Exhibitions
2021 Jeonnam International SUMUK Biennale, Simsang Elementary School, Mokpo
2020 So Far Yet So Near, Onsoo Gonggan, Seoul
2019 Come to Think of It, It’s a Good Thing Corpses Smell, Art Space Pool, Seoul
The Sea Will Not Sink: Memorial Exhibition for the 5th Anniversary of the Sewol Ferry Disaster, Ansan
DMZ, Culture Station Seoul 284, Seoul
More than Words, Seongnam Cube Art Museum, Seongnam
2018 Of Nature, Suwon Ipark Museum of Art, Suwon
Meditation in a Landscape, Museum SAN, Wonju
Chul-In, F1963, Busan
2017 Gangwon International Biennale: The Dictionary of Evil, Gangneung Green City, Gangneung
B cut Drawing, Kumho Museum, Seoul
2016 The Edge of Night, OCI Museum of Art
2015 Real DMZ Project, Art Sunjae Center, Seoul and Cheolwon
Seoul Lunar Photo Festival, Leeyongjae Architects + Side, Seoul
2011 Happy Window, Art Center Nabi, Seoul
Life: No Peace, Only Adventure, Busan Museum of Art
2010 Planet A, Ilmin Museum, Seoul
2009 Space A, Gonggan Gallery, Seoul
Four Korean Artists, Gallery Fukuzumi, Tokyo
2008 Deburaux Aponem, Galerie Deburaux Aponem, Paris
Creation Anatomy, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan
Creative Mind, SAVINA Museum, Seoul
2007 ART-LAN_ASIA, ZAIM Gallery, Yokohama
Interaction Between Art and Mathematics II, AVINA Museum, Seoul
2006 Young Korean Artists, MMCA, Gwacheon
2005 Portfolio 2005, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul
2004 Gwangju Biennale: A Grid of Dust, A Drop of Water, Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju
A New Sight: Derailment, Art Space Pool, Seoul
2021 CKD Art Prize for Art, Chong Kun Dang Holdings
2013 Stuttgart Museum of Art, Stuttgart, Germany
2012 Asialink Art Space, Sydney
MMCA Goyang Residency, Goyang
2009 Seoul Museum of Art Nangi Residency, Seoul
MMCA Art Bank
Seoul Museum of Art
Hana Bank
Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance Co.
Ssamzie Farmers Co.
Seoul National University Museum of Art