Kun-Yong Lee

Logic of Place

1975, printed 1970s

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Not on display

Kun-Yong Lee born 1942
6 photographs, gelatin silver prints on paper
Image, each: 230 × 320 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2018


Logic of Place 1975 comprises six vintage gelatin silver prints that are individually framed. The photographs, which were printed at some point in the later 1970s, show six stages in the sequence of an action carried out by the artist in 1975. The first three photographs show Lee drawing a circle in the earth with an implement, in three successive stages of completion. In the fourth photograph Lee stands just outside the circle pointing his index finger towards it, while in the fifth he stands inside the circle pointing his finger straight downwards. In the last photograph he is pointing his finger over his shoulder as he stands to the right outside the circle, with his back to it. The photographs were produced in Seoul around the time of Lee’s first public presentation of the eponymous performance at the South Korean Avant-Garde group’s fourth exhibition in December 1975.

Lee applied the term ‘logical event’ to his performances, rather than the then more frequently used notion of ‘happenings’, in order to make a distinction between his pre-planned actions and improvised situations. His body and its movements, as well as its limitations, were central in these events. When Lee performed Logic of Place, he later recalled, his main aim was to question the changing relationship between the self and its environment, depending upon the movement of one’s body:

I assume that Logic of Place may be a representative work of Logical Event. The actor suddenly appears at the center [sic.] of a hall bustling with the audience, silently bends his waist, draws a circle with a sustained amount of space, stands outside the circle for a moment, shouting ‘there’ while pointing at the center of the circle with a finger. The actor then enters the center of the circle, shouts ‘here’ to the bottom of his feet, then shouts ‘there’ as he points at the circle behind him with his finger stretched over the shoulder after walking out from the circle. After repeating the action for a few times, the actor continues shouting ‘where, where, where?’ while walking on the line drawn by chalk, disappearing into the crowd. This shows that the concept of relationship changes by the movement of one’s body in space. Finally, it ultimately leads one to ask himself about such a change by disturbing or amplifying the logic of a field through repeatedly shouting the word ‘where’.
(Kun-Yong Lee, ‘A Biological Trajectory Built on the System of Cultural Recollection’, in Wolgan Munhak Joengshin [Literary Spirit Monthly], August 1980, reprinted in Gallery Hyundai 2016, p.17.)

The apparent lack of any real purpose in the artist’s actions was highlighted by his measured and deadpan delivery, making the audience focus on his movements rather than their outcome. The pace and sequence of his movements were also significant, emphasising a sense of time and its relation to space. Logic of Place is typical of Lee’s performances in presenting a seemingly insignificant action governed by a self-imposed set of rules, such as measuring a given space or drawing lines on the ground or canvas. Lee used his body as the index as well as the medium in many of his actions, establishing rules that were bound to the condition of his body, such as his height, the breadth of his arms or the length of his steps.

Throughout his high school and university years, Lee studied the analytic philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein and the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, as well as East Asian Taoism. The importance of the body in the notion of the self and its relationship to the world was central in his performance, where direct engagement with the audience also played a key role. In the context of South Korea’s repressive political regime in the 1970s, actions in public spaces and the gathering of a crowd in the form of ‘events’ were a subtle yet apprehensible critique of the political state. Art historian Joan Kee has pointed out:

the state obligated its citizens to conform to a set of arbitrary norms. This in turn meant the systematic denial of personal autonomy; one must submit under pain of punishment. Such denial, however, begged the question as to what actions, in fact, were permitted, which many Korean performance artists answered by investigating the connection between the physical body (sinch’e) and self-consciousness via a recognition of what the body could or could not do. Performance art in Yushin Korea thus encompassed larger questions regarding the nature of artistic agency, a critical task at a time when doubt was cast over the viability of outright protest or critique.
(Kee 2015, accessed 12 July 2017.)

Lee became a prominent figure in the field of performance art in South Korea during the 1970s, presenting over forty original events. This set of unique photographs is a rare documentation of one of his signature works.

Further reading
Lee Kun-Yong in Snail’s Gallop, exhibition catalogue, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon 2014.
Joan Kee, ‘Why Performance in Authoritarian Korea?’, Tate Papers, no.23, Spring 2015, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/23/why-performance-in-authoritarian-korea, accessed 12 July 2017.
Lee Kun-Yong: Event-Logical, exhibition catalogue, Gallery Hyundai, Seoul 2016.

Sook-Kyung Lee
July 2017

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