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
Solo Exhibitions

Outside, Gallery SoSo, Paju


The Mass, Place Mak, Seoul


The Weight of the Skin, Hapjungjigoo, Seoul


Water and Steamed Rice, Amadoartspace, Seoul


The Half-dead Things_The Tracing Rope, Dr. Park Gallery, Yangpyeong

The Half-dead Things_Planta Erectus, Nonbat Gallery, Paju


The Half-dead Things_Planta Erectus, SeMA Nanji Residency, Seoul


The Half-dead Things_Machine, Geumunwha Gallery, Seoul


The Half-dead Things_Juice, Gallery Doll, Seoul


Transitory Special Transformation, Gallery King, Seoul


Pink and Pig, Artspace Hue, Seoul


Solo Exhibition of an Artist Who Is Not Famous, Gallery Chang, Seoul

Selected Group Exhibitions

Night Sense: Sound, Scent and Memories, SPACE SO, Seoul

Come to Think of It, It’s a Good Thing Corpses Smell, Artspace Pool, Seoul

The Sea Will Not Sink, Hall of Ansan Culture and Arts, Ansan / Space Illi, Seoul
Photo-Initially, Finally, SPACE SO, Seoul

DMZ, Culture Station Seoul 284, Seoul

Less is More, Space of Design and Architecture, Suwon


Nomadic Gyeonggi Art Festa: Ring Ring Belt, Donuimun Museum Village, Seoul

From the Face, WEEKEND, Seoul

Of Nature, Suwon Museum of Art, Suwon

Meditation in a Landscape, Museum SAN, Wonju

The Dictionary of Evil-Gangwon International Biennale, E-Zen, Gangneung

B-cut Drawing, Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul

25.7, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul


The Edge of Night, OCI Museum, Seoul


Real DMZ Project, Art Sonje Center, Seoul / Dongsong Downtown, Cheorwon


Corea Campanella, Hotel Amadeus, Venice

Les Flaneurs, Gallery Skape, Seoul


Drawing Diary, Shinsegae Gallery, Seoul / Incheon / Gwangju

Variations, Project Space Sarubia, Seoul

Happy Window, Art Center Nabi, Seoul

Prohibition of Excavation, Art Space POOL, Seoul

Life, No Peace, Only Adventure, Busan Museum of Art, Busan


Leehaiminsun and Chumirim, Gallery 2, Seoul


Planet A: Emergence of Species, Ilmin Museum of Art, Seoul

Korean 4 Artists, Gallery Fukuzumi, Tokyo

I Robot,Seoul Olympic Museum of Art, Seoul

Seogyo Nanjang, Gallery King, Seoul

Space A, Gallery Space, Seoul


Creation Anatomy, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan

Deburaux Aponem, Cornette, Galerie Deburaux Aponem, Paris

NGAF, KT&G Sangsangmadang, Seoul

Creative Mind, Savina Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul

Artists, What is Science for You?, Korea Institute of Science and Technology, Daejeon

Our Beautiful Earth, Gwacheon National Science Museum, Gwacheon / AT Center, Seoul


Art-Lan-Asia, ZAIM Gallery, Yokohama

Conversation of Art & Math, Savina Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul


Young Korea Artists, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea, Gwacheon

Gwangju Biennale: Art Market, Gwangju History & Folk Museum, Gwangju

Diary: A Record of Drifting, Dongduk Art Gallery, Seoul


Portfolio 2005, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul


Gwangju Biennale: A Grain of Dust A Drop of Water-Imagination Relay, Gwangju


Stuttgart Museum of Art, Stuttgart


Aisalink: Art Space, Sydney

MMCA Residency Goyang, Goyang


SeMA Nanju Residency, Seoul


MMCA Art Bank

Seoul Museum of Art

Hana Bank Co.

Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance Co.

From Ssamzie Farmers Co.