Artist interview: Lee Sang Hyun - Art Collector

15 October 2013

On the occasion of his first exhibition in Australia at M Contemporary, internationally acclaimed Korean artist Lee Sang Hyun shares his experience of South Korea's rapidly changing society during an interview with Lisa Corsi.

Lee Sang Hyun, A Rocket Launch in The Imperial Palace, 2009. Digital C print diasec, 120 x 90cm, edition of 5. Courtesy: the artist and M Contemporary, Sydney

Your work intentionally depicts the contrasts time and ideology create. How did your exploration into colonisation, consumerism, and the politics of otherness begin?

My goal is to show the paradox and allegory of the political and social relationship between North Korea, South Korea, China and Japan, as well as the influence the United States has had on our society. Ironically we do not have control over our country’s history and evolution as war and devastation have changed our direction. The expense is the loss of our traditional culture including our Royal Family and the younger generation embracing capitalism and westernisation.

My works present a dichotomy of reality and fiction blending historical images of Korea with the vivid pop culture of contemporary life. The compositions offer an alternative reality as it juxtaposes past and present to illustrate the rapid change in South Korean society over the last hundred and fifty years. With an extremely rapid modernisation process through foreign occupation and wars, the total collapse of traditional life took Korea from a third world country to a first world in one generation. I explore questions related to artifice and reality, to what is revealed and to what is concealed in an image and at what cost.

You work across various media, painting, drawing, video, photography. How important is the choice of medium to your research?

I mix up the mediums I use in my works to engage but also mislead the viewer. By creating works with paper, painting, animation and drawing, the viewer is only seeing the end result. The works will always express something that is deeper to the eye. They may look digitally produced, however, this is not true. It is the paradox of its making. It is not what it seems; they are all made by hand. It’s the irony in the making that is also the irony in the compositions.

Lee Sang Hyun, Wanders at Sunset, 2008. Digital C print diasec, 112 x 70cm, edition of 5. Courtesy: the artist and M Contemporary, Sydney

Can you tell us why this first exhibition in Australia is particularly important for you?

Many of the young generations in both countries are not aware Australia helped us (lead by the USA) significantly in the Korean War and helped save the city of Seoul from communism in the Battle of Kapong in April 1952. This was the turning point in our country's history. Australia is a safe and stable country like South Korea with happy prosperous communities, but are we forgetting our past and ignoring our ancestors.

As Korea has gone through rapid growth over the last 30 years and from a third world to a first world country in one generation, we have lost so much whilst we gained so many material things. We dream of paradise, but it does not exist, it is only a figment of our minds and desires. Paper peach blossoms do not bring you happiness, they are fake. Designer handbags will not bring you fulfillment, but yet many continue to yearn for these things and have a passionate desire for the material.

Lisa Corsi

Lee Sang Hyun's exhibition
Broken Blossom continues until Saturday 9 November at M Contemporary in Sydney.

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