Seulgi Lee Kang
Performance, video, installation artist born in South Korea in 1985, living and working in London. She received her Bachelor of Craft Design Degree (B.A.) in 2009 from the Junnam National University in Korea. In 2016, She received her Master’s (M.A. Fine Art) at Chelsea College of Arts, London, UK. She has worked in Seoul, Berlin, London and a recent residency in Estonia.
Seulgi Kang’s work deals with breaking down the simplicity and complexity of the ‘every day’, which, as so fundamental and common or uncommon, can be overlooked. Through the variation of ‘every day’, she questions her and our environment, the rudimentary balance of structure and subconscious rules, that for her, seem to have already been granted, by default. Expressing circumstances surrounding a moment, where she is, she uses ‘mundane’§ objects and materials to create complex and nuanced performance films that are informed by poetry, history and human emotions. She dismantles and reconstructs form, space and function, embodying meaning to familiar forms and actions which everyone engages in, anyone can do, or does.
Q: WHAT WAS YOUR ROUTE TO YOUR CURRENT ARTISTIC PRACTICE?
I didn’t even know what art was, but I thought I was an artist. I was an ordinary girl who grew up being loved, thanks to my parents in a happy family environment, in a rural village in Korea. As a child I was well educated, ate well, slept well and had no major pain or loss. People around me said she had artistic talent, so I learnt Korean dance and started painting, and I won art awards in the area. Even after studying and some luck, I went to do an Arts Major at the Arts University Craft, Kwangju, without much thought. At that time, the subject of my life seemed to have done something for someone rather than for myself. After wandering for a few years in college, I ended up selling in a clothing store, then suddenly I wanted to try something new and something that only I could do, so I went back to college right away.
I honed my craft skills to make jars and sold my work for the first time at a local art event. Then, a curator suggested that I submit it to a portfolio exhibition for an art fair in Seoul, so I prepared a portfolio decorated with my jars and went to the exhibition hall. And that day, when I saw the portfolios of other artists, I was almost ashamed of myself, like that ‘I was’ a thoughtless little decorated beauty jar.
I decided to focus on work to become ‘a true artist’ and put my thoughts and life into my work, and then I entered a MA in sculpture at Hongik University, Seoul, South Korea. The works I created of hiding the meaning of death, in ornate mother-of-pearl decorations were well received, then, even then, I thought I was an artist. After graduating from a prestigious art college, I thought someone would become an artist by exhibiting in galleries or doing things that looked like art. It seems that I lived with a certain sense of purpose and desire. The reason I thought these things were useless was from the moment I found myself through repeated losses and frustrations from my relationship with the world. My art hanging on the wall in the corner could not do anything. So I always wonder if I am right or correct to call myself an artist or to have someone introduce me that way. Perhaps, the reason is because of the small but huge direction that I want my art to take, which I think I understand a little more now. Now, I am working regardless of form, crossing the boundaries of art inside and outside.
Q: CAN YOU IDENTIFY ANY ELEMENTS OF YOUR COMMUNITY OR COLLABORATORS THAT HAVE HAD A STRONG INFLUENCE?
I get my influence from my surroundings and I have had support for mental and physical aspects that I have used to create my work. To mention – ‘You are’, 2018, is a work I made in my hometown Yeonggwang, South Korea, which is by the sea. This is an installation where a single pine tree was installed on the tidal flat and the video was filmed until the tide came in. Shooting from the perspective of an observer looking at home (a tree) that cannot be reached from a distance. This is a subjective, personal work that reflects an emotional distance, yearning and understanding that the artist feels but connects the uncertainty we face individually and collectively.
My uncles, who are farmers and fishermen in my hometown, joined me to help as technicians. They made a ladder, that was not in my plan – the ladder they made for me was like a hope that connects them with art and leads to a place where there is a single tree if there is a muddy world where it is difficult to take one step at a time. Someone told me that art is sometimes seen as a monopoly, a party belonging to art or education. I try to prove that it is not, art is where everyone can belong.
Q: HOW IS YOUR PROJECT TIED TO THE CIRCA X DAZED CLASS OF 20:21 THEME OF ‘COMMUNION’ ?
Communion has many meanings, but given the situation the world found itself in, the individual has been separated, practically and emotionally. The everyday activity of people, partaking in shared experiences and exchanging intimately, thoughts and physicality became isolated. So ‘Communion’ was a precious absence of everyday life because of the restriction of not being able to share, eat, drink and talk closely and together, the performance was a reflection of that. It was also an open ending – the act of eating resumes, but there is no trace of the other side. It suggests that a situation, that had been, to an extent uncontrollable, had new rules and strategies, implications, and I wanted to present in a way the gratitude for the daily life where we naturally come together.
Q: HOW WOULD THE CIRCA PRIZE OF £30,000 IMPACT YOUR FUTURE PRACTICE?
This will help me mentally, physically and emotionally. The wellbeing that this gives to concentrate on my practice is hard to put into words, it will be so important. The pandemic, for most people, including artists has been financially difficult, so I am in a situation where this will make a great difference to my future practice. The award will solve the technical, production and collaboration-related parts that were not easily feasible. I can work to acquire the direction so that the meaning and essence of my art does not fade. It will also contribute to heighten the execution and level of my working practice. Financial security to give me TIME to work and concentrate.
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