Lee Ufan

Relatum

1968, 1994

Artist
Lee Ufan born 1936
Medium
Stainless steel
Dimensions
Unconfirmed: 20 x 3300 x 3300 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2015
Reference
T14334

Summary

Relatum 1968, remade 1994 consists of one hundred straight, flat bands of stainless steel that are each two metres long. The majority of these are loosely arranged in four piles to create the sides of a square measuring 3300 x 3300 mm. In the centre of the square, ten of the bands are interwoven with another eleven so that they form a roughly square woven ‘field’. Although the artist has provided a description explaining how to install the work, the exact composition and dimensions of this field are flexible. The original version of the sculpture, created in 1968, is no longer in existence, but it was remade in 1994 for an exhibition at Kamakura Gallery, Tokyo. This remade version was also shown in Lee Ufan’s retrospective Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2011.

In the late 1960s and the 1970s Lee was involved in the Japanese artistic movement Mono-ha (‘school of things’) and became its spokesman. Using raw and often industrial materials such as steel or iron and found natural objects such as stones, his sculptural works are centred on the essential character and presence of their materials and their interconnections. The artist has used the title Relatum for a number of his sculptural works in a range of different materials. The reduced, purist language of Relatum and its concentration on form and material are representative of Lee Ufan’s sculptural works. As the title and the flexible installation instructions suggest, the work is concerned with an open inter-relatedness. Unlike some of his later Relatum works, this work does not juxtapose two different materials, such as a stone and steel plate, but rather focuses on the dialogue of the steel pieces with each other as well as with the space around and between them. The use of the Latin term ‘relatum’, which is used, for example, in works by philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), also illustrates Lee’s interest in philosophy.

In a public conversation with Tate curator Lena Fritsch at the Korean Cultural Centre in London on 21 March 2015, the artist explained that this work is concerned with the idea of ‘connection vs. dis-connection’. To define this non-hierarchical relation, he used the term ‘encounter’. Lee has repeatedly emphasised the importance of space and time in his works: ‘A work of art, rather than being a self-complete, independent entity, is a resonant relationship with the outside. It exists together with the world, simultaneously what it is and what it is not, that is, a relatum’ (Lee in 52nd Venice Biennale 2007, unpaginated). This statement also points at the influence of East Asian thought on Lee’s work. Unlike Western dualism, East Asian philosophy and aesthetics have regarded form and non-form, space and non-space, fullness and emptiness, not as rigid opposites but rather as dynamic concepts that are intertwined. Instead of focusing on the tension between contraries that are irreconcilably opposed to each other, East Asian culture has emphasised spatial as well as temporal concepts of the ‘in-between’ (‘ma’ in Japanese).

Relatum is characteristic of Lee’s practice in its reduced language and in its focus on the interconnection of form and non-form. In addition, it exemplifies the modest artistic process on which his works are based. He used a similarly reduced abstract language in paintings such as Correspondence 1993 (Tate T07303). Lee’s artistic gestures are rooted in discipline, meditation and respect for material, rather than subjective, expressive actions. He has stated that his work ‘is accompanied by prayer and reflection, as is the case with sporting performances, a scientific experiment or life in a monastery. This is because creation is an encounter, a call and an answer’ (Lee in 52nd Venice Biennale 2007, unpaginated).

Further reading
Lee Ufan: Paintings and Sculptures, exhibition catalogue, 52nd Venice Biennale, Venice 2007.
Lee Ufan, The Art of Encounter, trans. by Stanley N. Anderson, London 2008.
Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2011.

Lena Fritsch
March 2015

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Display caption

Lee Ufan’s sculptural works focus on the essential character and presence of their materials and their interconnections. Here he uses a single material – one hundred flat bands of stainless steel – and explores how the different elements relate to one another and to the space in which they are arranged. He has explained: ‘a work of art, rather than being a self-complete, independent entity, is a resonant relationship with the outside. It exists together with the world, simultaneously what it is and what it is not, that is, a relatum.’

Gallery label, January 2016

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