hosung lee / essay
Talking in Analogue Plunged in Digital / Liz Kwon - Curator
The start and development of digital images are marked with continuous efforts to get closer to the analogue reality. However, the objects created on screen by Lee stand out as mechanical and artificial objects creating stark contrast with the background nature and ooze out a surreal atmosphere. His works put in parallel actual existence and virtual images, nature and artificial objects to express poetic and pastoral feelings instead of awkward dépaysement. Lee has long been painting with black Korean ink and brush, and probably he is very much comfortable and familiar with emptiness. In oriental painting, the concept of empty space is not defined by concrete or specific relations but focuses on reproducing the infinite characteristics of the object. Likewise, Lee floats the object of mechanical image up in the vast and silent sky to represent a wider world of imagination. Maybe the scenes of nature which served as the basic foundation for his paintings were used to express the origin of all things and at the same time as a medium to unfold his logic for imagination.
Lee used to design game characters and to give life to the most interactive element of games, he tried countless times to reproduce images. In computer graphics, a certain amount of data is put in to generate corresponding shapes or forms. It is a good tool to produce pre-conceived shapes but with only that, the creator of characters cannot produce the story of the game. Therefore, any game character designer should think about not only what kind of characters he wants but also the mind and tendency of the game players who control the behavior of the character. Like the avatar of an online game without actual existence in the real world yet not entirely anonymous, game characters are the tools for fun that represent the player’s identity. While creating such role-playing in games with realistic and interactive features, Lee started to understand the concept of ego in the digital world.
The machine-like but organically linked objects commonly found in Lee’s works were created in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a “state of flow”. Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity, and such a state always surrounded a computer-savvy Lee from the days when he designed game characters up to now. Designing game characters, Lee expanded this scope of techniques and tried new things and the elated fun he had led him to experience the state of flow. This was the driving force behind his passion for fine arts and become the mental source of energy for him to develop well-established artistic identity. After graduating college, he got fascinated with the delicate expression skills of 3D tools which couldn’t been done manually but the unique experience of grinding an ink stick on an ink stone and the memory of the touch of the brush in his hand rekindled his longing for creation, and the works created during this time of transition influenced his current works. It is usually said works of an artist are the manifestation of his unconsciousness. But maybe, the beginning of creation is initiated by the internal motivation supported by immersion and skillful techniques as in the state of flow.
Lee has repeatedly experimented with and analyzed shapes and forms changed by different movements, and he started to use computer programs, something that he always played with, to create objects looking like semi-living organisms within natural images. The structure in his mind is created using computer programs, only the basic frame of which, and different colors and shapes are repeatedly reproduced. After this initial work, 3D MAX program is used to tweak the shapes and forms and the final image is rendered by shedding light and creating shadows. 'Unidentified Flying Life 2010a' and 'Unidentified Flying Life 2010b' share the same background and in the displayed image, the semi-living organism in the middles looks like it is flowing. These pieces were initially created in 2D, and as game characters are given life, Lee added motion to make them move like a living organism. In his display art, the objects on screen move leisurely changing its shapes and forms like the ecosystem that evolves in a flexible manner depending on the external circumstances and surrounding conditions.
One example of Lee’s experiments in which he tries mixing analogue elements in digital works is stamping the seal in his works. When it comes to digital information, it can exist in multiple spaces at the same time. Even if it is copied in a number of times after some time passed, it does not go obsolete or will not be worn out. Concerned about this perfect duplicability, he wanted to give a sense of authenticity to the original pieces of his work as much as possible, so he laid the photographic paper on the traditional paper with his signature seal stamped. The seal engraving basically represents one’s mind and intention and was used to manifest the owner’s social class. Today, seal engraving in paintings and calligraphic works means verification and completion but it offers a valuable spatial beauty as well. Its practical use of verifying the artist has now evolved into something to be appreciated from a perspective of art, and Lee utilized it as a formative element in oriental painting and to empower his digital prints with scarcity like hand-painted drawings.
The revolution of hardware and computer graphics opened a new path for the painting practices of an artist, and assisted him to express his emotion through boundless trials with images in this mind rather than actual objects for reproduction. Electronic paintings consisting of pixels have advantages of free transmission, duplication and production, but are difficult to secure control of the entire work or to form an aura of the artist’s hands. Interestingly, instead of being aware of such limitations on a conscious level, Lee tried to mix manual work with computer programming, probably driven by his past experience of formative work of oriental painting. Originally paintings couldn’t exist without a medium, and paintings shared its history with its medium which is the product of the same time. Lee’s works of art also borrow most common but state-of-the-art media to find his ego through oriental contemplation between natural and mechanical images. He didn’t start young as an artist but it is hoped that his exhibition "The Quiescent Flow" will offer a valuable chance to examine relationship between human and nature, and human and digital, and to put you on a springboard to jump you high into the world of infinite imagination as his works do.
This essay was published in exhibition catalogue ‘Lee Ho Sung’, Gallery Iang, Seoul, 2010