Lee Young-mi | 李 伶美


1995        B.F.A, Ceramics Department of Hong-ik University of Fine Art, Seoul, Korea 
1998        M.F.A, Ceramics Department of Hong-ik University of Fine Art, Seoul, Korea
2003        M.F.A, Sculpture Department of Central Institute of Fine Art, Beijing, China
2007        P.H.D, Art history Department of Tsinghua University of Fine Art, Beijing, China
Present an associate professor of ceramic art, Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute
Solo Exhibitions
2011 “FAMILIAR SCENT”, Artlink Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2010 “BOKADANG: Power of Everyday Life”, Artside Gallery, Beijing, China
1998 “HAND”, Danseng Gallery, Seoul, Korea
Group Exhibitions
2012   Art Beijing, Beijing, China
   Between dream and Memory, Force Gallery, Beijing, China
Recommendation Exihibition of Art Nova 100, Beijing, China
       A Collection of works for the 1st China contemporary ceramic art Exhibition, Century altar, Beijing, China
2011 Cheongju international Craft Biennale, Cheongju, Korea
Gyeonggui international Ceramic Biennale, Yeoju, Korea
         Datong international Sculpture Biennale, Datong, China 
2010   Introduction to Zhejiang Kiln International Ceramic Art Exhibition, Hangzhou, China
The Seventh china contemporary young ceramic artist biennale Exhibition, Hangzhou, China
International Contemporary Ceramic Art Exhibition, Jingdezhen, China
2009   Emerging Korean Artists in the World 2009_USB, Seoul, Korea
Three understandings of “jing”, c5 Gallery, Beijing, China
2008    Ceramic Installation In post-colonial Context, Ningbo, China
Jingdezhen Contemporary International Ceramics Exhibition, Jingdezhen, China
2010    Second prize, The national Ceramic Art Design Creation Contest, China
2011    Second prize, The 1st Kaolin China International Ceramic Art Contest, China
NingBo Art Museum, China
The People Government of Datong, China
The People Government of Jingdezhen, China
Personal statement:
The protagonists just like us in modern times, they are reflecting on the various problems of life and dedication with variety of poses and facial expressions. In addition, by combining animal forms and human-like metaphor reflects our instinct that already exist, the characteristics of congenital and the formation of cephalometric. In particular, it’s widely cherished expectations, hopes, thoughts…ect. are symbolically embodied as a rosary, a flower, a pair of floral shoe; the complex emotions of human is general difficult to describe with water, fire, blue sky and earth this kind of nature, which hold out for observation on life vision. Like the lighthouse which tell us the existence of island, each of the hearts of flash light to personal memories and feelings back to the point in time, to the role of the media and audience share.
Now I’m living and creating at the Jingdezhen of Jiangxi province at China permanently. Jingdezhen is a ceramic city of thousand years of making ceramic history, with a variety of traditional techniques and rich natural materials, making everything possible, it’s a special area which ceramic history and modern pottery civilization can be coexisted. I make my creations at Jingdezhen; most of my works are benefited from its culture and heritage. Over thirty dreaming pottery figurines of my artworks are fully develop the advantages—whiteness, transparency, using multiple techniques of “ceramic painting”. And of course, I completed the whole making process with traditional pottery way. Traditional handmade approach requires a lot of time and careful effort, it’s not favored by people because of low efficiency, but in my artworks, it’s an excellent way of expressing the true feelings of human. 


Lee Young-mi on ‘Asia’
Cho Min-ju, (Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, Zhejiang University)
Lee Young-mi is a Korean artist who stands in an in-between space in 21st century contemporary art, which is largely dominated by the two countries of China and US. Lee went to China 14 years ago when China had already wrapped up the Cultural Revolution and had started to implement the reform and open-up policy. She immersed herself in China during its period of enormous influence on the world in the 21st century. The 1990s in China was an explosively passionate period when Chinese artists—such as those involved in the 85 New Wave Movement centering on Beijing’s 798, and artists working in US and Europe like Cai Guo-qiang—were establishing their own cultural identity in the world and rose as the blue chips of contemporary art. During this period, contemporary Chinese sculptors continued on the ‘Chinese Realism’ style that represented the 70s and 80s, while searching for a change through expanding their practice to installation art. Having studied contemporary sculpture and ceramics at Central Academy of Fine Arts and Tsinghua University in Beijing in the 90s, and having confronted the turbulence in Chinese contemporary art, one can trace formal style of 90s Chinese Realism in Lee’s works.
With the gust of Realism now winded down a notch in the 21st century, Lee’s recent body of work proposes much more fundamental issues about the formality and content of Asian art. Like other Chinese artists, Lee’s subject of meditation is on the Asian identity. However, the ultimate aspiration of Lee’s oeuvre lies in reconstructing a ‘diverse Asia’, which goes beyond the mere deconstruction of Asia’s modernity and documentation of the complex heterogeneous Asia which many artists today are preoccupied with. During her dozen or so years of sojourn in China, Lee traveled around the country and researched the ancient Chinese burial culture which is different from that of Korea, and also collected various antiques like broken porcelain and old TVs. Lee’s interests through such travels were to excavate the meaning of life and death as meditated upon by ancient people of Asia, and to find the cultural background that determines Korea and China as two separate Asias rather than one. Hence the anthropological reinterpretation on Asian traditions left in Korea and China has become a significant issue for Lee, who, through the perspective of an ‘Asian woman’, strives to represent the Asian life and ideals that have remained hidden thus far.
Lee’s artistic narrative, which really started with her solo exhibition Between Dream and Memory: Floating Island at Seoul Arts Center in 2006, is extremely still and restrained, unlike the works of contemporary Chinese artists. Although they resemble 90s Chinese Realism works in terms of formalism, Lee’s white monotone sculptures made of white clay suggest a meditative quality often found in plain white porcelain of Joseon Dynasty. In a reserved tone, each sculptural figure expresses the countless emotions and frustrations of everyday life, and the true essence of life that reveals itself in the repetition of despair. At the same time, the palpitating human ‘aspiration and desire’ in the midst of such aggressive violence of everyday life is expressed through the glowing light from the clear porcelain and the Buddhist rosary, flowers and flower shoes that each figure holds. Lee claims that she found inspiration for this installation from the porcelain burial dolls found in the burial practices of China’s Han Dynasty. In Between Dream and Memory, Lee’s contemporary visual language perfectly materializes the ‘metaphor of death’ inherent in the porcelain burial dolls of ancient China, and the Asian way of bridging across the rupture between the present life and the unattained dreams through a spell. Leading us in the present to a space of death, this installation yielded a precious opportunity of meditating upon the meaning of life.
Lee’s observation on Asian life becomes more concrete after she moves to a small Chinese city called Jingdezhen. Already in her fourth year in residence there, Lee has been focusing on the life of ordinary people who have gotten used to their wearisome life of endless labor, without having gained any kind of benefit from China’s economic development. Lee’s works focus on the life of nameless individuals living in the 21st century Asia that can be found in both Korea and China. In her installation Bokadang : Power of Everyday Life shown in Beijing in 2010, Lee displayed old sown-over clothes that her neighboring elders wore until they died, together with sculptures of animals made in realist fashion. In this work, Lee demonstrates trace of time through the old clothes and the greatness of life that is attained through the dull repetition of labor. Lee’s work TV Series, which was shown in the annual exhibition Familiar Scent at Art Link in Seoul in 2011, suggests scenes from limp exhausting life through the arrangement of small figures and old Chinese TVs made of white clay. The tedious life of Chinese people in the 21st century is a serious matter for Lee, as someone who has witnessed the wearisome history of Korean people who severed ties with traditions of the past to propel democracy and economic development. Lee started to demonstrated her own aesthetic qualities of Realism through applying the mechanism of Realism—which was used to tell stories of politics and public in 70s and 80s—to reinterpret the everyday life of ordinary people in the 21st century Asia. In other words, Lee demonstrated how ‘Chinese Realism’, which was previously conceived as a way of conveying the ‘big discourses’ about the massive Chinese society, can more than sufficiently deliver the ‘little stories’ about the individual life.
Actually, China has seen an enthusiastic drive towards such ‘little stories’ since the boom of Realism in Cultural Revolution, as demonstrated in The Stars(Xingxing) and Scar Paintings(Shanghen) of 70s and 80s, and the 85 New Wave Movement started to focus on subjects like locality, humanism and issues of the individual. Ultimately, however, the visualization of such ideas through an artistic language didn’t seem to differ a whole lot from Western art. Meanwhile, Lee continued on her art practice in the context of Chinese Realism, while restraining the emotional level by embracing the sense of ‘emptiness’—the essence of Minimalism which swept over Korea and Japan. Such approach was rather original and gentle. Rather than being visually flashy and exaggerated, the simple refined white figures in Between Dream and Memory capture the everyday life in a humble voice, and communicate with the audience of this generation in an extremely engaging way. Lee’s minimalist approach demonstrates an artistic realm which couldn’t successfully be expressed through abstract art in Chinese contemporary art. Lee’s approach started to evidently take its form through her work TV Series in the exhibition Familiar Scent, providing the basis for Lee’s realism which, unlike massive Chinese installation works, observes the individual everyday life in a hyper realistic fashion through her intentional use of miniature forms and reserved colors.
Another fascinating aspect about Lee’s work is that in all of her installations, including Silent Memory, there is a real representation of the Asian body. As mentioned above, these bodies play a pivotal role in carrying out the narrative about the life of an Asian individual. However, the ‘body’ in her works aggressively rejects the excessive philosophical interpretation of Western aesthetics. In other words, Lee’s bodies are not ‘bodies dominated by the mind’ in the context of Western philosophy, but are ‘organic bodies’ that exist within reality. Although Postmodernism in Asia at the end of 20th century dredged up hidden narratives of deconstruction theories on subjects like discourse, body and other, artists could not overcome the limitations that lie in the basis of Western philosophy, such as the fixation on transcendentalism and skepticism, and the dichotomy of body and mind. Therefore, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that in Western art, what lies in the antipode of representing human, or the body of the woman in particular, is the aged theories relating to ‘god’ or ‘masculinity.’ Neither Louise Bourgeois nor Keith Haring seems to disagree with this fully. However, the ordinary, incorrectly proportioned, and unidentified Asian body that appears frequently in Lee’s works, is a non-religious cultural body that communicated with reality, rather than a body as a deconstructive apparatus that otherizes itself. By intentionally miniaturizing existing large Realist sculptures, arranging them in a certain narrative, and repeatedly staging various stories in a similar format, Lee is able to fully eliminate the interpretation on the Western idea of the ‘cynical body’ from her work. Lee’s experimentations propose a new alternative for the problems of contemporary art that arises when ‘interpretation’ outpaces ‘artistic representation’ and ‘communication with reality’.
As our reality is not always so bright, Lee’s narrative that focuses on the everyday life of Asian, as mainly demonstrated by her work TV Series in Familiar Scent, is forever dark and frustrating. However, when one has patience and persistently follows the uncomfortable narratives, one comes to face the clear concrete hope like a lotus flower budding in a swamp. It seems to soar up, riding the rhythm of the artist’s hands in the smell of earth layered in her sculptures. Pouring her heart and soul into Asian porcelain techniques since university, Lee expressed that “the taste of the hands and its process in making a piece of work is more profound experience than the story itself.” In Jingdezhen, the mecca of ancient Chinese porcelain where high quality kaoline is still produced today, Lee is conducting various experiments of applying formative techniques of white clay and porcelain to art. Her simple working process of making a form, coloring it, waiting for it to dry, and firing it, is reflected clearly in her works by narratives that anticipate hope in the dull repetition of everyday life. At the same time, Lee’s installations which often use actual objects with stains of human use, such as old Chinese TVs, door slabs, broken pottery and farmers’ clothes from Cultural Revolution, reminisce the ‘lost sense’ of Asians. Of particular note, the crafty traditional pottery technique and use of antiques come together brilliantly in the three-person exhibition at c5 Gallery in Beijing, in 2010. Such primitive method of production sheds a light on the problems in the production method of contemporary art which centers on mass production, use of ready-mades and reproduction.
Art has the tendency to become contemporary art without relying too much on sensorial experiences when it reaches philosophical maturation. This is a problem that is still evident in Chinese contemporary art, as Western art has been adapted without criticality since 1980s. However, ceramic practice, which fully employs both texture and volume from the selecting of the material to making of the form, opens new potentials through Lee’s works as a new visual language. By focusing on method of production rather than philosophical interpretation, Lee’s works expand the existing various textures of ceramics to the realm of contemporary art, and successfully transform the tangibility of earth to an artistic language. Therefore, Lee’s sculptures and installations elevates Asian ceramics, which has always been devalued as ‘craft’ in modern times, to a perfect harmony with contemporary art practice. Lee’s unique creative approach which stimulates the human tactile senses makes an inference to the cognitive practice and mentality of Asians before modernity, or the period when man and earth, and man and man bonded. Made of raw white clay of Jingdezhen, each work has clear impressions of the maker’s finger prints. As opposed to Western thinking that relies on the vision, these works stimulate the tactile senses of the audience, which in a strange way, inversely stimulates and objectifies vision.
The established Chinese artists who have intentionally rejected tradition to make new art of Asia since 1980s might find Lee’s endeavor to re-focus on the discourse of ‘tradition’ rather uncomfortable, but such might be the worries of those who have not properly grown out of modernity. Lee’s reinterpretations and various experiments on tradition offer a refreshing alternative for those living in both East and West in the 21st century who have experience a rupture with tradition. Like the unexpected rise of China, Lee’s art, which rejects being defined through an existing language of contemporary art, can no longer be overlooked. It’s truly exciting to wait and see just how the Korean artist Lee Young-mi will use Asia’s tradition as a tool to confront the ever more turbulent waves of globalization.