Seulgi Lee’s new solo exhibition opens today (15 November 2018) at Seoul’s Gallery Hyundai. With a practice that focuses on textiles and installation, the Paris-based artist creates a visual examination of anthropological theories through the intricately engineered pieces. She applies new meanings to banal objects such as blankets which utilise traditional Korean hand-quilting techniques, Nubi. The use of Nubi emphasises the importance of Korean oral culture in Seulgi’s work. Historic Korean proverbs, which are expressed verbally, are translated into geometric textile patterns that tie into the artist’s interest in the origins of colour; particularly within the artist’s native culture.
“Working with textiles has always been an important aspect of my practice”, Seulgi tells It’s Nice That. The craft of Nubi, often used for making blankets, was very popular in Korea during the 1980s and has become an obsession for the artist over the last couple of decades. Long lines of stitches that are sewn line-by-line are separated by as little as half a centimetre, creating delicate puffs of texture in between the long stitched lines. The technique of Nubi sparked an interest in artisanal craftsmanship taking Seulgi on research trips to North of Oaxaca in Mexico, to learn about their unique ways of weaving to make carpets, hats and baskets that are distinctly of their culture.
Since 2014, Seulgi has been working with artisans in Tongyeong, Korea to create the series currently on display at Gallery Hyundai. The artwork is a series of blankets titled U, the works “are visual interpretations of traditional Korean proverbs”. For instance to ‘show a duck’s foot’ means ‘to lie’, whereas the proverb, ‘repair the cowshed after losing with cow’ implies that something is ‘too late’.
Seulgi applies Korean colour theory to these proverbs to create the artwork. She explains that “in Asian cosmology, colours are linked with orientation: blue for East, white for West, red for South, black for North.” In France and Korea, it’s said that “sleeping with the head towards North gives good health.” The artist uses this information in a “spiritual process” to translate Korean proverbs into an image. The viewer’s understanding of the artwork becomes purely about the intuitive power of colour. “It is a spiritual process”, says Seulgi, the oral proverbs are given a “physical impact, which gives so much strength”.
The baskets in the exhibition are a direct reference to the artist’s time in Ixcateco in North Mexico. In the small village Santa Maria Ixcatlan where Seulgi stayed in, there is an indigenous oral language that only four people speak and will sadly, soon be extinct. Consequently, Seulgi proposed a “hybrid form of basket” to evoke a word or phrase of the dying Ixcateco language, integrated into the traditional methods of weaving which in turn, commemorates the ancestors of the culture orally and physically. Seulgi concludes by saying, “I find many correspondences between different cultures via primitive forms, a central idea in both anthropology and archeology”, an overarching conversation throughout her new solo show exhibiting from now until 23 December 2018.
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