Draw Lucid Things
As indicated by the exhibition title—Draw Lucid Things—Miju Lee depicts clear objects. However, the images in her paintings seem to be viewed from a “chiaroscuro” state, rather than a clear consciousness, as if they are emerging from fantasies, daydreams, and dozing. Some dreams are so clear that we mistake them for reality, even after we are awake. Resonating with both clear and unclear meanings that cannot be described in words, these deeply emotional, fleeting scenes tend to quickly volatilize from memory. Miju Lee has shown a unique talent for faithfully translating these indescribable scenes into paintings.
From 2016 to 2020, Miju Lee primarily focused on still-life paintings or indoor scenes with people. The objects in her paintings seem to exaggerate their own patterns, to the point that they seem to come to life, creating extraordinary relationships with the other objects or people in the scene. In some cases, the facial expressions of the people seem to have melted and flowed away, or popped right out of the frame, leaving a bizarre jumble of events with no stable perspective, like a nightmare. In Sleeping Disorders (2017), one person covered with a blanket seems to be trying to wake up with a toy pellet drum, but another person (or another self) uses a book or smartphone to project images of night that radiate with an unfamiliar gaze. Meanwhile, the dog design on the blanket comes to life, running into this strange night space.
Self-reflexion (2020) documents the momentary phantasms that occur on a table that is scattered with various items, including a clock, glasses, stationery box, notebooks, and frames. The entire surface is filled with medium-toned colors, produced with colored pencils, yielding a soft and dreamlike ambiance. Tiny faces are sprouting everywhere, looking at a blurry figure in the middle who sheds bloodshot tears. Stretched faces of women (resembling the artist herself) pour out of a watering can, while tears flow from some of their eyes. Thus, the image seems to express the artist’s psychological projections on the objects in her vicinity.
In her notes, Miju Lee wrote, “When I began to accept that I did not have to be something, I suddenly wanted to capture sights with no purpose. I felt alive with the joy of such acts.” While this type of statement from an artist can be interpreted as representing a pure act of creation, I was more reminded of an individual’s struggle to escape from the alienated labor practices of the capitalist system. This might be because Miju Lee’s images convey a familiar feeling, but are also very different from anything else in the contemporary art system. Imagine a world where nothing that we do seems strange, because nothing can define us: could we ever feel more free? And this freedom is meaningful not because it is pure, but because it arises when we take a certain distance from institutions and structures.
from a review by Jaehwan Kim (editor of B-Art, curator of Gyeongnam Art Museum)