Jung Lee Exhibition
I recently had the opportunity to view an exhibition by Korean photographer, Jung Lee at the Green Art Gallery in Dubai. I knew very little about this photographer or her work, other than an article in a local magazine, before attending the gallery. As I entered the gallery my initial thought was that the works on display seemed huge. They measured 170cm x 136cm and were displayed in both horizontal and vertical orientations.
The photographs were a selection taken from a series of neon light installations from her Aporia, meaning ‘coming to a dead-end’ in Greek and her Day and Night series. The neon lights form short statements and messages and sit outdoors within a variety of barren landscapes.
The neon message is the focal point of the photograph. Lee has said she choose neon because it is common and regarded as a cliché, but in her composition she wanted it to become profound, philosophical even. The messages include statements such as ‘I DREAM OF YOU’, ‘WHY?’, ‘ONCE IN A LIFETIME”, ‘YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU…’, ‘THE END’ and ‘I STILL REMEMBER’.
I briefly thought that the photographs seem like the front of a very beautiful billboard, with the colourful message bearing down on the passers-by. However, this comparison does the works a great disservice as the majority of billboard slogans are instantly forgettable whereas the messages in Lee’s work seem intended to provoke thoughts, ideas and questions, potentially on an individual basis.
Lee explains that while she wants her work to be open to a viewer’s own interpretation, she was inspired to create the Aporia and Day and Night series’ through literature. The Roland Barthes essay, A Lover’s Discourse, influenced Aporia that tells the story of the incompetence of people in love. Lee responds to Barthes’s character that searches on end for signs that he is in love, imagining sweet nothings as glowing neon city signs that express cliché statements. Day and Night is inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, which highlights that true faith and love lead the way to heaven. As a result Lee focuses on the words ‘GOD’ and ‘LOVE’ in her photographs.
The visual links to the idea of love and relationships was clear in the written message. Subtler, I thought, was the use of desolate landscapes as backgrounds for the messages, which Lee has said acts to make the words of love or hope seem more isolated and lonely.
I considered where Lee’s work may sit in relation to the eight categories describes by Cotton (2009) in ‘The Photograph as Contemporary Art’.
I think the works had a feeling of being ‘Something and Nothing’ (Cotton, (2009, p115) in the sense that the neon lights are an ordinary, everyday subject that has been altered conceptually because of the way it has been presented. Light that is usually seen in a forgettable urban environment has been placed centre stage in a rural isolated location.
I also wondered if it could be considered Physical and Material (Cotton, 2009, p219) because Lee combines her photography with installation work?
The exhibition has a few more days to run, ending on October 16th.
Work from the exhibition can be viewed here http://www.gagallery.com/exhibitions/2013-09-10_jung-lee/works
Cotton, C. (2009) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed). London: Thames and Hudson Ltd