Artist Yein Lee contemplates today’s golden age of information and technology

Vienna-based artist Yein Lee talks about her cultural influences and inspirations while growing up in South Korea.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Oct 01, 2022

The year is 2050, and the human race has run out of pure genetic material. Every single person has been hybridised into a bio-mechanical creature connected to cybernetic networks. The human experience is now quasi digital, and our sense of interconnectedness is no longer just spiritual. Artist Yein Lee’s installations reverse engineer this imagined future, encouraging us to contemplate its implications from the standpoint of our present day. Lee is currently based in Vienna, but her childhood was spent in South Korea. The technological wave that surrounds Korean culture continues to resonate within her art. The artist speaks with STIR about what influences her practice, and inspires her to create.

Installation view of Foreign Object Debris, 2022, Yein Lee | Found Object Debris | Yein Lee | STIRworld
Installation view of Foreign Object Debris, 2022 Image: Courtesy of Kunstdokumentation, and Yein Lee

Lee completed her Bachelor’s in Seoul where she studied traditional Asian painting, focusing on technique and material. However, after completing this study she sought out a more contemporary and experimental approach to art. She moved to study further in Vienna in Austria. The radical shift in culture allowed her to see Korean culture with fresh eyes. Lee has crafted her practice through this lens. The visual artist tells us about her early fascination with gadgets and tech devices. “My father was super into new tech, so when I was growing up, he would always buy any new device he found. New computers, audio devices, Bluetooth speakers and mp3 players. We saw how these devices were getting smaller as they advanced. After coming to Europe, I realised how Korea is much ahead of the European market. Here my friends use phones that are quite old but in Korea everyone is constantly buying the latest model of everything,” she says. 

Lee’s art installations are constructed using a mixed palette of materials including steel, epoxy, plastic and acrylic. The contemporary artist also makes use of waste materials, reusing and recycling while maintaining consistency and coherency in the visual aesthetic, despite the myriad materials. “I use a lot of electrical cable as a material because I just had so many of these lying around. I also grew up reading a lot of manga like Naruto and Sailor Moon, and there was a lot of metamorphosis of human characters in them which influenced me also,” she mentions. Lee’s aesthetic influences also come from science-fiction films like Ex-Machina and Blade Runner. The Korean artist says, “I remember watching Blade Runner and thinking hey this is not fiction, I used to live in a place that looks just like that.”

Yein Lee’s Rejuvenate Body Order Now Series, Installation View at Needle & Balloon, 2022 | Yein Lee | STIRworld
Yein Lee’s Rejuvenate Body Order Now Series, Installation View at Needle & Balloon, 2022 Image: Adam Šakovy; Courtesy of Yein Lee, and Synagogue - Center of Contemporary Art

Lee explores the human condition in today’s golden age of information and technology. Her creative expression has transformed over the years from abstract forms to more recognisable structures. She says, “Lately, I want to contextualise a bit closer to the human form, using the same visual language. With a human form, the viewer can feel a certain empathy toward the creature they are looking at. The human form is a bridge to connect with the viewer. I want to reflect current society, science fiction and the related issues I am interested in.” This is visible in her series of sculptures titled Foreign Objects Debris (2022) which show human-like forms, constructed using epoxy, plastic and cables, interacting with one another. One immersive installation even shows this human-like form pondering upon their own reflection in a mirror. This simple interaction of looking at one’s own reflection is full of vulnerability and intimacy. Somehow, the action also seems to represent society and its relationship with technology and the unknown futures. The human form reflects on its own hybrid nature, wondering where the lines between human and machine begin to blur.

Installation view of Klammern aus denen Blätter Sprießen, Hunter Shaw Fine Art, Los Angeles | Klammern aus denen Blätter Sprießen | Yein Lee | STIRworld
Installation view of Klammern aus denen Blätter Sprießen, Hunter Shaw Fine Art, Los Angeles Image: Ruben Diaz; Courtesy of Yein Lee, and Hunter Shaw Fine Art

At a recent group exhibition titled Klammern aus denen Blätter Sprießen, hosted by Hunter Shaw Fine Art in Los Angeles, Lee showcased a visual artwork called Blooming On Cybernetic’s Spines (2022). The artist tells us, “I was really interested in this visual of how the egg gets this special spot on the table with the egg holder, how it seems to look more important than others. It is transparent and shows this hybrid body growing inside.” To the viewer, this installation could also reference the birth of the hybrid form, the future of biotechnology and cybernetics.

Blooming on cybernetic’s spine, 2022, Steel, Plastic waste, PET sheet, Fake Flowers, Epoxy putty, Electrical wires, Acrylic ink, Yein Lee | Klammern aus denen Blätter Sprießen | Yein Lee | STIRworld
Blooming on cybernetic’s spine, 2022, Steel, Plastic waste, PET sheet, Fake Flowers, Epoxy putty, Electrical wires, Acrylic ink Image: Ruben Diaz; Courtesy of Yein Lee, and Hunter Shaw Fine Art

The artist summarises the essence of her practice, and why she feels the relevance of her creative inquiry by saying, “I think I always try to convey a certain degree of caring for the otherness. The core of my practice is always observation of the otherness. Anybody could be in the position of the other. The otherness is fluid and the subjectivity is also fluid. I want the viewer to take this idea that metamorphosis and monstrosity is maybe not that far away from us.”

A portrait of artist Yein Lee | Found Object Debris | Yein Lee | STIRworld
Artist Yein Lee Image: Neven Allgeier, Courtesy of Yein Lee
Yein Lee at her art studio Video: Courtesy of Yein Lee

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