Lee Bul

The Lee Bul exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, was an experience. Fractured mirror surfaces, bright colours and monstrous body parts surround me the moment I walk in. The transgression of boundaries is the theme that seems to tie these diverse pieces together, as the exhibition text states:

“much of Lee bull’s work is concerned with the way that idealism or the pursuit of perfection – bodily, political or aesthetic – might lead to failure, or disaster.”

I see this first in Civitas Solis II – inspired by a utopian text “City of the Sun” by Italian writer Tommaso Campanella:

The installation is both beautiful and apocalyptic, the mirrors that line the walls and floor disorientate the viewer and reflect the cold whiteness of the hanging sculpture infinitely. Nothing alive remains in this City, it reminded me of fossilised remains, what what might once have been the bustling utopia of its title.

Hanging from the ceiling of the exhibition space and in glass cases along the walls, made of a variety of materials – was Lee Bul’s Cyborg series. These pieces are inspired both by classical Greek and Roman statues and Japanese anime.  Lee Bul seems to glory in the melting of boundaries between past and present, human and machine:

“Lee Bul is interested in what the figure of the cyborg – a transhuman hybrid of flesh and machine – can tell us about desire, our relationship to technology and culture attitudes towards the female body.”

In this she was inspired by Donna Harraway’s  1985 classic essay A Cyborg Manifesto, which is introduced by the author as “an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction.” We see this confusion of boundaries throughout Lee Bul’s work whether in the infinite reflections of a mirror maze or in a performance piece in which she wanders the city dressed in a monstrously androgynous costume of limbs.

As Donna Harraway goes on to argue:

“Work is being redefined as both literally female and feminized, whether performed by men or women. To be feminized means to be made extremely vulnerable; able to be disassembled, reassembled, exploited as a reserve labor force; seen less as workers than as servers; subjected to time arrangements on and of the paid job that make a mockery of a limited workday; leading an existence that always borders on being obscene, out of place, and reducible to sex.” (p38)

In a time of precarious (branded “flexible”) work and zero hour contracts, we see this dehumanisation of labour daily. But, can cyborg identities be an escape from the crushing force of capitalist white supremacist patriarchy?

Janelle Monae’s latest album, Dirty Computer, argues the case. In the dystopian world of her “Emotion Picture” – anyone who exists outside of the societal norms, – people she labels “free ass muthafuckers” are branded by the faceless officials as “dirty computers” who need to be “cleaned”. The cleaning involves having all memories of queerness, rebellion and joy drained out in order to make them into perfect, malleable workers. Monae celebrates the idea of being a dirty computer, of being gender non conformity, queerness, of black joy and of what she sings of as a “crazy classic life”. The album marks her explicit coming out as a  Dirty Computer herself, a queer black woman, who is going to fight back against the racist heteronormative american society she lives in.

But as well as anger the album is full of queer joy. At one point Janelle Monae dons a pair of vagina pants and has her girlfriend Tessa Thompson pose as her clitoris while she sings about the joys queer sex:

As Donna Harraway states: “Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia.”(p.67)


Here are some more images from the Lee Bul exhibition:






*Haraway, Donna J.. Manifestly Haraway, University of Minnesota Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/warw/detail.action?docID=4392065. Created from warw on 2017-12-18 03:37:21.