Kang Seung Lee

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The primary focus of my artwork is the concept of liberating the archive through the exploration of the creation of critical/cross-cultural histories. By researching, excavating, and appropriating images/text from public and private archives (art/artifact collections, publications, libraries, etc.) I allow for alternative historical and personal voices, counter-narratives and strategies to emerge. My work places emphasis on marginalized individual experiences and personal histories that disturb the established structures and orders of the traditional archive, and challenges singular mainstream knowledge/history.

I was born in South Korea and thereafter lived in various countries in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America before relocating to Los Angeles. Because of this, my work comes from the desire to challenge the narrow perspective of the biased, first world oriented timeline of history, and speaks about the potential to intervene in systems. The work manifests itself in the form of visual marks, traces and as index. I seek out the path in both re-emphasization and re-imagination of archival information, which is primarily realized in labor-intensive mediums such as tracing, graphite and colored pencil drawings, embroidery, collecting and multimedia installations.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been exploring the possibilities of drawing as a thinking machine and the embodiment of histories. Two recent projects, Untitled (la revolución es la solución!) and Absence Without Leave, employ similar strategies, by removing the human body to re-render figureless tableaux in graphite prior to adopting various methods of display: framed drawings and photo light boxes on wall installations, tapestry, hardened fabric sculptures and neon works, etc.

Images in Untitled (la revolución es la solución!) co-opt the work of photojournalists taken during the LA uprising in 1992 and continue to implicate the subjectivities of human bodies through graphic depictions of violence, perpetuating the stereotypes of racialized figures. My removal of the bodies is aimed to challenge the popular representation and invite a movement towards the radical emancipation of otherness. I am particularly interested in the fact that the uprising, commonly understood as a white-black conflict, was also a boiling point for tensions in the Latino and Asian communities. At the same time I am hoping to instill a solemnity for the lives and memories lost and injured and communities destroyed in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the uprising.  Works exhibited at Artpace San Antonio (summer 2017) also appropriate various commercial methods of display and repetition of visual imagery such as large prints, a billboard size tapestry, posters and neon, all of which have political connotations with the style of propaganda.

A previous project, Absence without leave begins with a selection of iconic representations of male bodies and moments of AIDS pandemic in public and domestic spaces documented by photographers. In some photographs, the bodies remain anonymous (works by Alvin Baltrop, Leonard Fink, and William Yang); others profess an intimacy with their subject (a portrait of David Wojnarowicz by Peter Hujar and Martin Wong by Peter Bellamy), and are also examples of the artist’s oeuvre (Isaac Julien’s film noir staircase and Robert Mapplethorpe’s self-portrait). Each image conjures the departed through absence but also alluding to presence.

Covers (2015 -2016) was my direct response to the current art education in the US. In Spring 2015, I researched all the exhibition catalogues and artist monographs in the CalArts Library collected since the art school was founded in 1971. The vast number of catalogues at the library, approximately 20,000 titles, purchased by librarians as the result of student or faculty requests, and also donated by art professionals and collectors, reflects the poor representation of women artists and artists of color, as well as the Western oriented history of contemporary art that is being currently taught in the United States. The resulting project includes five handmade books, each representing a decade of CalArts existence, and a wall installation. Each book contains a selection of photocopied covers of the monographs and solo exhibition catalogues by women artists and artists of color published during that period of time that were part of the CalArts library collection. In an installation at the Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, I filled the large wall space with the 1,400 photocopied black and white covers in chronological order of publication from 1971 through 2015, and selected one cover each for year, replacing these with pencil drawings of the covers, thereby inserting my own personal history.

My most current project is loosely based on Derek Jarman’s garden in Dungeness, UK and the numerous objects and assemblages he created for the garden in the early 90’s before his death from AIDS. The project is an exploration of the idea that memories not only belong to human beings but also to other beings of the planet, such as plants and rocks, and that there are different ways of writing histories, especially a history of disease, through the invisible connections between humans and objects and memories carried by nature. In September of this year, I visited Jarman’s garden in Dungeness for research and gained access to his cottage and garden for further studies with Keith Collins who was Jarman’s last partner. I also met with the prominent AIDS activist Simon Watney and Jarman’s artist-friends, James Barrett and Michael Petry who shared their archives related to Jarman’s film sets. Juxtaposed with Derek Jarman’s garden, I am also researching biographies of artists/writers from South Korea, such as Joon-su Oh, who created works using plants and minerals and died of AIDS in the 90’s. This multimedia installation consists of drawings, ceramic objects, and wood-carvings that are appropriated from Jarman’s and Oh’s object-making and writing, as well as sound and moving images. The work is part of my continuous attempt to address marginality, interpretation, rewriting and labor through the indexing and archiving exercise.
















MFA, California Institute of the Arts, CA

Solo and Two-person Exhibitions (selected)
Solo exhibition (curated by Yoshua Okón), ArtPACE, San Antonio, TX (catalog)
Leave of absence, Sunset Blvd Digital Billboards (City of West Hollywood + IF Foundation), West Hollywood, CA Two-person exhibition with Hye In Lee (organized by Kwan-Hoon Lee), Space KAAN, Seoul, Korea
Leave of absence & Absence without leave, Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles, CA (catalog)
Untitled (Artspeak?), Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, ASU, NC Covers, LACA (Los Angeles Contemporary Archive), Los Angeles, CA and Child, Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles, CA
Kang Seung Lee: Untitled (Artspeak?), Pitzer College Art Galleries (curated by Ciara Ennis), Claremont, CA (catalog) Untitled (Artspeak?), D300 Gallery, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA (catalog)
Untitled Solo Show, D300 Gallery, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
My nights are more beautiful than your days (curated by Dulce Chacon and Eugenio Echeverria) Centro Cultural Border, Mexico City
My beautiful things are falling down from the sky, el Marrakech Salon, Mexico City

Group Exhibitions (selected)
(forthcoming) The Reinstitute Research Library & Archive, Baltimore, MD
Reconstitution (curated by Hamza Walker and Catherine Taft), LAXART, Los Angeles, CA
1992 An Examination of the Iconography from the LA Rebellion, Residency Art, Inglewood, CA Luck of the Draw, DiverseWorks, Houston, TX
NADA, Commonwealth and Council/Skibum MacArthur, New York, NY
Blind Spot, Design Matters, Los Angeles, CA
De la Tierra a la Tierra, Centro Cultural Metropolitano, Quito, Ecuador
Spring Benefit Exhibition, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA Luck of the Draw, DiverseWorks, Houston, TX
RaceCraft, Center for Art and Thought (curated by Sarita See and Marie Lo), Los Angeles, CA Normal Family (organized by Minkyung Choi), Last Projects, Los Angeles, CA
GLAMFA 2015, California State University, Long Beach, CA
CalArts 2015 MFA show (curated by Sarah Lehrer—Graiwer), Cooper Design Space, Los Angeles, CA (catalog)
Pardon My Condition (curated by Andrea Huber), Raymond Gallery, Art Center College of Design, CA Endur A Round (curated by David Frantz), California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
Hidden, Center for Art and Thought (curated by Jan Bernabe), Los Angeles, CA GLAMFA 2014, California State University Long Beach, Long Beach, CA
Body Body Bodies, SOMArts Cultural Center, San Francisco, CA
Annual QAC show, Main Gallery, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA The Hill, C115 Gallery, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
Art on Paper: 42nd Exhibitions (curated by Xandra Eden), the Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC (catalog)
Narrativas con dibujo, Galeria de la Esmeralda, the National School of the Arts, Mexico City Narrativs con dibujo (curated by Young Sun Kim), Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky, Mexico City

Residencies and fellowships
Recipient, International Artist-In-Residence, ArtPACE, San Antonio, TX 2016 Recipient, Creative Capacity Fund, Center for Cultural Innovation, CA 2016 Nominee, Art Matters, NY
Nominee, Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant 2015 Artist-in-residence, Pitzer College, Claremont, CA 2015 Nominee, the Dedalus Foundation Fellowship, NY 2011 Convocatoria, Centro Cultural Border, Mexico

Leave of Absence, Sming Sming Books (forthcoming)
Untitled (la revolución es la solución!), ArtPACE, San Antonio, TX 2017 Absence without leave, Sming Sming Books
Untitled (Artspeak?), Pitzer College (with essays by Leslie Dick, Jen Hutton and Ciara Ennis) 2015 Untitled (Artspeak?) 1st edition (with essay by Jen Hutton)

Bibliography (selected)
Rees, Christina & Zech, Brandon, “Glasstire Top Five: July 20, 2017”, Glasstire, July.
Michno, Christopher, “The Figured Absence: Spectral Works From Kang Seung Lee”, Riot Material, May. Steyels, Mike, “Artist Kang Seung Lee Draws The LA Uprising 25 years Later”, Mass Appeal, May
Farago, James & Schwendener, Martha, “What to See at New York’s Art Fairs This Week”, The New York Times, March.
Viveros-Faune, Christian, “’Activism’ Is the Hot New Art Trend at NADA New York 2017”, Artnet, March.
“Beyond Art: the extremely reactionary, burn-it-down-radical, newfangled far right”, New York Magazine, May 1st Kaundinya, Anaka, “NADA to See Here: Best of the New Art Dealers Alliance Fair”, Bedford + Bowery, March. Wagley, Catherine, “5 Free Art Shows to See in L.A. This week”, LA Weekly, February.
“Artpace Announces Its 2017 Artist-in-Residence Schedule”, Glasstire, January.
Whiteford, Meg, “Kang Seung Lee, Covers”, ARTFORUM Critic’s Picks, May.
Michno, Christopher, “Ciara Ennis: Exhibition Practices and Alternate Theories of the Archive, KCET Artbound, April 17.
Richards, David & Tuck, Geoff, The Parkfield Review #5 2014-2015, pp 82-83, January.
Michno, Christopher, “Kang Seung Lee at Commonwealth and Council”, Artillery magazine, February. “De la Tierra a la Tierra, una Mirada al consume”, el Telegrafo (Ecuador), November 4.
Stromberg, Matt “Normal Family, ArtRx LA” Hyperallergic, August 11.
Dick, Leslie, “History Dances: Kang Seung Lee’s Untitled(Artspeak?)”, Untitled (Artspeak?), Pitzer College, September.
Ennis, Ciara, “The Counter Archival Tendencies of Kang Seung Lee”, Untitled (Artspeak?), Pitzer College, September.
Hutton, Jen, “Untitled”, Untitled (Artspeak?) by Kang Seung Lee, March.