UNION is the first solo exhibition by South Korean artist Lee Bae in Canada. With a focus on the artist’s Issu du feu (Emerging From Fire) series from 1999-2000, the exhibition spans a variety of different non-traditional media. Working in materials such as charcoal and wood, Bae’s work probes the ephemerality of life and the cyclical nature of death.
Of the most prominent works in the exhibition are a series of burnt pine tree trunks. Originating from Cheongdo, a county in the North Gyeongsang Province of South Korea, the trunks are delicately selected and burned for two weeks in a custom-made kiln, where they emerge with their fragile wood grain and visible growth rings still intact.
The artist’s usage of wood as a raw material, burned and displayed in its liminal state alludes to the cycle of the tree’s life. Trunks in the exhibition form ready-made sculptures, teetering on the precipice of decomposition. Made up of a plethora of gray hues, with white ashy undertones that signify their life and decomposition the final step of the process concludes with the artist wrapping their trunks in black elastic bands, enveloping the material and at once protecting its frailty. The trees are displayed in various rooms of the exhibition, with each one bearing no likeness to another.
Alongside his charred wooden sculptures, Bae’s canvases hang in each room of the gallery, replete with what appears to be full opaque brush strokes in shades of black and gray. However, upon further inspection, these paintings are nothing other than carefully placed charred wooden slices fit meticulously together to create organic compositions. The fascinating aspect of these paintings is the lustrous and vivid qualities of the wood. Upon closer inspection, the grains emit subtle incandescent hues achieved through polishing the charred slices.
Permeating much of the exhibition is Bae’s use of the persimmon. The fruit, which bears importance to the artist, dating back to his childhood is featured in a set of 24 drawings representing the life cycle of the fruit. The illustrations, each depicting the fruit at different stages of its life, suggest the same sort of ephemeral transience that the artist probes in his charred wooden statues and canvases.
Other works in the exhibit, include different drawings that resemble brushstrokes that focus on monochromatic shades of black and white. In another room screening, Bae’s short documentary Burning a House of Moon shows a South Korean ritual in which a tower of pine branches and straws which contains the pieces of paper with people’s wishes on it, is ceremoniously burned.
Bae has constructed an enchanting array of different works of art that represent the journey of life and the transience of existence. His works model irregularity in the most compelling, magnificent way, and coalesce questions of life, death, and liminality seamlessly.
The exhibition was curated by the director and curator of the Phi Foundation, as well as artist and scholar Cheryl Sim. It will be on display until June 20th, at the Foundation Phi for Contemporary Art in Montreal.
All Photos by: Ingrid Voicu Roth, at the Foundation Phi for Contemporary Art, Lee Bae Union Exhibition
Ingrid Voicu Roth is an Editorial Intern at liminul.
She is a writer and journalist based in Montreal. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and English from the University of Waterloo and is currently completing her graduate diploma in journalism from Concordia University.