As the Middle East braces for an escalation in violence, Jung Lee’s solo show at Green Art Gallery has arrived in the region at a fortuitous time. The show presents two series, Day & Night and Aporia, (translated from the Greek as “to come to an end), both of which explore the mysteries of human love. I was refreshed to find an exhibition in Dubai that while deeply philosophical, focused on light rather than darkness and was devoid of political references.
Each of Jung Lee’s photographs features a popular romantic phrase illuminated in neon sculpture and set in the South Korean wilderness. The show accomplished the project of powerful photography—it pulled me out of my multi-tasking mind and into an emotional experience, a special moment in time with the art that was so personal I can only compare it to love at first sight.
I was lucky to be given an entire hour to speak with Jung, who comes from a small town outside of Seoul close to the border with North Korea. We perched on steel chairs surrounded by her work. The show had been installed just moments before, and sawdust stuck to the gallery’s concrete floor like a layer of morning dew. Jung was wearing turtle green sneakers that she tucked under her chair like a schoolgirl. She is a reflective person, who weighs her words before speaking, and this philosophy corresponds to her artistic technique—the individual pieces for the show took three to four years to complete and she likens the experience to “going through a long, dark tunnel towards becoming myself as an artist.”
Aporia is grounded in Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse in the sense that it explores the idea of love as being simultaneously profound and banal—as something so complex that language fails to capture its meaning. Dante and Hemingway are other influences. Half smiling like she was about to reveal a secret, Jung leaned in and gestured towards Once in a Lifetime, confiding, “If you are in love with someone, there are such deep feelings you want to express, but words don’t do them justice so you end up repeating trite phrases from films or pop songs. I started to collect sayings from my friends and realized that the same ones were being recycled over and over.” It was from these conversations that she chose the words that would eventually become the neon sculptures used for the two series that comprise the show at Green Art.
With a kind of clairvoyance, Jung sees her completed pieces in her head before she even begins, explaining, “When I work with neon, I first have a strong visualization of how the sculpture should appear. Then the land on which it will be set takes shape.” Because she interprets love as an addiction, “a state of entrapment, a place without an exit,” Jung chose to set the sculptures on overgrown abandoned land to communicate a feeling of endlessness.
After each sculpture was constructed and a setting determined, she would obsessively check the weather for the right shooting conditions. “I would set up the sculpture overnight, then wait for the fog or the snow to appear in the morning. Sometimes the neon would break or the weather wouldn’t cooperate. I would have to drive back home and try again, sometimes waiting an entire year for the season to return and the snow to fall or the fog to gather just as I had pictured.”
As I studied Once in A Lifetime and How Could You Do this to Me? I was struck by the poetry of these phrases and how each photograph would resonate in a deeply private way with any viewer, perhaps drawing up memories of a first love that eventually dissolved, as if melting into a deep bank of Jung Lee’s snow.
Jung Lee’s Solo Show is at Green Art Gallery through 23 October, 2013. The gallery is located in Al Quoz at Alserkal Avenue. For more information and timings go here.
Brew some hot tea with mint and sit down to read excerpts from A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes here.
Photo Credits: All images provided courtesy of Jung Lee and Green Art Gallery