Lee Bul (b. 1964, Yeongju; lives and works in Seoul) works across a diverse range of media—from drawing, sculpture, and painting to performance, installation, and video—in examining the intricacies of shared human consciousness and the myths and folklore that accompany history. She investigates the liminal space between binaries such as the individual and the collective, and contradictory feelings such as isolation and claustrophobia. Her installations and sculptures explore universal themes such as the utopian desire to achieve perfection through technological advances, and the dystopic suspicions and failures that often result. Though varied in material and content, the works are united in their exploration of structural systems—from the individual body to larger architectural frameworks that encompass cities and utopian societies. For Lee Bul, humankind’s fascination with technology ultimately refers to our preoccupations with the human body and our desire to transcend flesh in pursuit of immortality. This interest often materializes in her work in the form of a cyborg—a being that is both organic and machine—the closest thing to a human that truly achieves this ideal. Lee Bul considers the cyborg a conceptual metaphor in its personification of social attitudes to technology; simultaneously a paragon and a monster.
Lee Bul received a BFA in sculpture from Hongik University, Seoul, in 1987. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA (2019); Hayward Gallery, London (2018); Martin Gropius-BauArt, Berlin (2018); Art Sonje Center, Seoul (2016 and 2012); Vancouver Art Gallery, (2015); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015); National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2014); Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg (2013); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012); Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris (2007); The Power Plant, Toronto (2002); New Museum, New York (2002); and The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1997). Her work has been included in important group exhibitions and biennials such as the 58th Venice Biennale (2019); Score_ Music for Everyone, Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, Korea (2017); X: Korean Art in the Nineties, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul(2016); The Future is Already Here – it’s just not very evenly distributed, 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016); Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2015); Burning Down the House, 10th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, Korea (2014); Prospect 1: A Biennial for New Orleans, New Orleans, LA (2008); Not Only Possible, But Also Necessary: Optimism in the Age of Global War, 10th International Istanbul Biennial (2007); and dAPERTutto, 48th Venice Biennale (1999). Her work is in numerous international public and private collections, including Los Angeles County Museum of Art; M+, Hong Kong, Hong Kong; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea; Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Tate Modern, London; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.
In 2019, Lee Bul received the Ho-Am Prize for The Arts, which is awarded to people of Korean heritage who have contributed to the enrichment of culture and arts for humankind. In 2014, she received the Noon Award at the 10th Gwangju Biennale, given to an established artist who has produced the most experimental work that embodies the theme of the biennale.
In 1999, Lee Bul was awarded an honorable mention at the 48th Venice Biennale for her contribution to both the Korean Pavilion and the international exhibition curated by Harald Szeemann.