Study for Heaven and Earth, 2006
pencil on paper
36 × 50.9 cm
Drawing for Heaven and Earth, 2006
india ink and colored pencil on paper
50.9 × 36 cm
Courtesy of Lee Bul Studio
Lee Bul’s Heaven and Earth is a reconstruction that recalls the bathtub that was used in the water torture that led to the death of student Yong-chul Park in January 1987. Such bathtubs were located inside the cells in a former torture center that was purpose-designed by modernist architect Swoo-geun Kim. The edge of the tub is modeled after Mount Baekdu, whose peak marks the border between present-day North Korea and China. Mount Baekdu is a dormant volcano— it last erupted in 946 CE—and within its crater is Cheonji, “Heaven Lake.”
To justify their brutality, the military dictatorship framed the Gwangju uprising as North-Korean, communist-supported insurgencies. Heaven and Earth links the division of North and South Korea—informed by the Cold War—to the civic uprisings that defined South Korea’s drive to democratization. Spring of Democracy exhibits preparatory drawings and installation shots of Lee Bul’s work.
Lee Bul (b. 1964, Yeongju, Korea) creates works that reflect a philosophical exploration of 20th- century cultural history. Exploring issues ranging from societal gender roles and the failure of idealism to the relationship between humanity and technology, she produces genre- bending works rooted in critical theory, art history and themes from science fiction. Lee Bul was academically trained in sculpture but her interest expanded into other media, such as performance art. Through her installations, she investigates how visionary narratives and notions of progress affect the way our world is structured both in the present and future. Lee Bul received a BFA in sculpture from Hongik University, Seoul, in 1987. She has had retrospective exhibitions organized at the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA, United States (2019) and Gropius-Bau (Berlin, 2018–19). Her work has recently been included in group exhibitions such as Phantom Plane, Cyberpunk in the Year of the Future (Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, 2019) and the 58th Venice Biennale (2019).