Lee Bul

Untitled (Cravings White)

1988, reconstructed 2011

Not on display

Artist
Lee Bul born 1964
Medium
Fabric, acrylic paint, wood, stainless steel carabiner and stainless steel chain
Dimensions
Object: 2440 x 1550 x 950 mm, 22 kg
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2014
Reference
T13992

Summary

Constructed with cotton-filled fabric and painted with white acrylic colour, Untitled (Cravings White) is a body-sized sculpture which is hung from the ceiling on a thin steel chain. Numerous serpentine forms are attached to and partly wound around a curved x-shaped body with a hole in the lower middle. An organic impression is conveyed by the work’s curves, the use of soft fabric and the fact that it is displayed hung up. The serpentine shapes are reminiscent of climbing plants, tentacles or inner organs; however, they remain indefinite, evoking an association with a fantastic creature. Untitled (Cravings White) is a reconstruction, carried out in 2011, of a piece of clothing that Lee wore during a performance titled Cravings at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea on 26 March 1989. The performance was part of the museum’s annual exhibition of work by young Korean artists. The original objects worn in the performance no longer exist since they were destroyed when the artist’s studio was flooded in 1990. As the reconstruction of a performance piece and at the same time an abstract sculpture in its own right, Untitled (Cravings White) links Lee’s performative practice to her sculptures, highlighting how the two art forms are fundamentally intertwined in her work. Lee has stated: ‘My first performances were a natural extension of my sculptural concerns and incorporated some of the soft-sculptural forms that I had been working on.’ (Quoted in Kim 2002, p.23.) Such works explore, change and extend the human form, questioning the traditional distinctions between the ‘natural’ and the ‘artificial’.

The Cravings performance featured Lee and three other performers, all wearing her white, red and black soft sculptures. The art critic James B. Lee has described the nature of the performance: ‘Engaging in slow, elaborate movements that call to mind a butoh dance and are meant to depict various cravings, or ‘obsessions’, as the artist puts it, the performers heighten the effect by means of concealed microphones which isolate and amplify every sound, especially their labored [sic.] breathing accompanying their movements.’ (Lee 1997, n.p.) The following year, Lee Bul staged a similar twelve-day performance titled Sorry for Suffering – You Think I’m a Puppy on a Picnic? It started at Gimpo Airport, Seoul, travelling to Tokyo where it occupied various public spaces, including Narita Airport and the Meiji Shrine.

The notion of growth, movement and enveloping that the sculpture Untitled (Cravings White) evokes is reflected in the subtitle of the work, whose form gives concrete expression to such cravings, be they sensations of hunger or desire. This manifestation of uninhibited obsession touches upon the human fascination with the wild, grotesque and monstrous. As such, the sculpture is directly connected to Lee’s series of Monster sculptures and Monster Drawings, which followed shortly after this work. Lee’s concern with organic forms and human bodies evolved into a series of silicone sculptures produced for the Hugo Boss Prize exhibition in 1998 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York: Cyborgs W1–W4 1997–8. Drawing on a diverse range of influences – from surrealism to Japanese anime and science fiction – the series indicates Lee’s interest in biotechnology and the contemporary utopia of mutable, artificial bodies.

Further reading
James B. Lee, ‘Parody, Parable, Politics’, in Kim Hong-Hee, Bul Lee, Seoul 1997, n.p.
Seungduk Kim, ‘Lee Bul: Les deux corps de l’artiste. Interview with Lee Bul’, Art Press, Paris, no.279, May 2002, pp.18–23.
Lee Bul: From Me, Belongs to You Only, exhibition catalogue, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, February–May 2012.

Lena Fritsch
March 2013

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Display caption

This is the reconstruction of a sculptural body-costume worn by the artist during her ‘Cravings’ performance at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul in 1989. Hidden microphones amplified the sound of her movements. Lee recalled that her ‘performances were a natural extension of my sculptural concerns’. She has continued to make sculptures, whose monstrous forms deconstruct ideals of the female body. In reconstructing Untitled (Cravings White) long after the original was lost in a studio flood, she reinforced the links between her sculptures and performances.

Gallery label, July 2015

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