From May 8 through 12, 2015, select works by Korean artist DongWook Lee will be on view at New York's leading art & antiques fair, [SPRING MASTERS New York] JUXTAPOSITIONS: COLLECTING ACROSS CENTURIES, alongside fine European sculptures offered by TOMASSO BROTHERS FINE ART (London & Leeds; Booth B12).
Rippling flesh, intertwined limbs, tense muscles, and gnarling fingers fill the black and white images in Korean artist Dongwook Lee's latest series of photographs, titled WOZU (a German word for 'why' or 'what for'). With these intensely physical images, Lee takes viewers into metaphysical inquisitions on matters of identity, the multiplicity of it, and the reasons for one's existence. “I reflected myself in water and there was a stranger...,” wrote the artist in his statement for the series, recalling what became the starting point for this body of work. “They [the two selves] were fiercely clashing with each other's voices.” Realizing this duplicity led him to introspection, and eventually, to further contemplation on human nature and mankind's insatiable pursuit for the raison d'être.
Wozu 03 (2013), Dongwook Lee
Hercules and Antaeus by GIUSEPPE PIAMONTINI | Florentine, 1st half of the 18th century (Image © Tomasso Brothers Fine Art)
The resulting images capture the sense of struggle, confusion, and fear that one's mind would experience when grappling with such introspection. Multiple human figures, which the artist shot in studio and then edited digitally, are intertwined tightly, like a knot impossible to undo. They are headless, as if to indicate a confused state of mind. In Wozu 07, tight weaves of bodies pull in both directions. Wozu 11 depicts two figures, or perhaps two 'selves' of one being, butting heads. Wozu 06 and 12 send viewers' eyes up, down, and across the images to follow the figures jumping about like scattering thoughts. In Wozu 10, one sees a figure emerging out of, or sinking back into introspection. The composition of Wozu 03 compels the viewer to follow the limbs of wrestling bodies in order to grasp their spatial relationships to one another, an experience akin to walking around a sixteenth-century mannerist sculpture. In his statement for the series, he also mentioned the biblical Tower of Babel as another reference point. One can see the notion of multiplicity, confusion, and the clashing of voices (or languages), in addition to the upward spiral movement in some of his compositions, relating to that metaphor.
In none of these images did the artist's concern lie in depicting the beauty and harmony of human physiques. The models Lee chose to use in this series are not the modern day ideals of beauty that he frequently shoots in his commercial photography commissions. Rather, Lee sought to make visible the state of anguish through the most immediate and visceral vehicle of human emotions––the human body.
Lee's mastery of the medium is evident in this series, which grabbed the attention of many notable media that focus on criticism of photographic art. It was selected as the Editor's Pick in LensCulture and was also featured on APAR.tv alongside works by luminaries of photographic art such as Guy Bourdin and Peter Lindbergh in 2014. Other print and digital publications that have featured WOZU include L'oeil de la Photographie (September 2014), Saatchiart (August 2014), Photoweenie (March 2014), and NOTHOUGHTS Magazine (March 2014). The series premiered at Noam Gallery in Seoul, Korea (2013) and was exhibited at Galerie Palais de Seoul the following year.
Dongwook Lee effortlessly straddles between commercial and fine art photography. Prolific in both spheres, he currently lives and works in Seoul, Korea. He has been profiled in various art publications including Business Inside, PhotoPlus, Monthly Photography, Artvas, and more. He has also been recognized by numerous awards: he was the 3rd Place Winner in the International Photography Awards (2014, USA), finalist for the DAM Art Prize (2014, Italy), and winner of the Grand Prize in the HP Turn-On Digital Award (2007). His work is held in both institutional and private collections, including the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (Japan).
Curated by Seol Park, Spark Assoc. Art Management
Presented in collaboration with TOMASSO BROTHERS FINE ART