Today we’d like to introduce you to Kang Seung Lee.
Kang Seung, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in South Korea and spent my formative years there. In my twenties, I left Korea to study overseas, then lived and worked in several places on different continents while working for a diamond company as a trader. My partner and I moved to Los Angeles when I decided to attend CalArts to get an MFA degree, and we stayed here since then.
Has it been a smooth road?
I feel very privileged to be surrounded by amazing artists and thinkers including my former teachers at CalArts and friends/colleagues who I met through the community of Commonwealth and Council. Art-making is often challenging but being part of a community that values diversity, generosity and activism makes it much easier.
Upon graduation, I was lucky to have an opportunity to expand my thesis project and had a solo exhibition at Pitzer College Art Galleries, which was followed by residency programs and grants such as Artpace San Antonio International Artist-in-Residence, the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, and the CCF Fellowship for Visual Artists that allowed me to keep working on new projects.
I also have been going back and forth between Los Angeles and Seoul for a few years now, doing research, organizing and exhibiting. My recent projects, Imaginaries of the Future and QueerArch were focused on creating conversations about the queer history in Korea through publications and archival materials. The projects were in collaboration with artists and scholars based in both Korea and the U.S., and it was such a rewarding experience to work collectively.
Please tell us more about your art.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about my most recent work, a collaborative project with Beatriz Cortez, that is currently on view at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. Beatriz is a dear friend and amazing artist who I have collaborated on several occasions.18th Street Arts Center has offered us a residency and an exhibition this year.
In the exhibition, titled Becoming Atmosphere, Beatriz and I wanted to question the erasure of others who came before them and who remain unseen. For example, my video titled Garden is centered on Derek Jarman and Joon-soo Oh, both artists and gay rights activists in their respective England and Korea who died from AIDS complications in the 1990s. In the video, I bury parts of my drawings at various sites of memory and invisibility such as Derek Jarman’s garden and Namsan Park in Seoul. Next to the video installation, you will find Beatriz’s work, Roots, a series of sculptures that explore diversity and non-human life on the planet that invite us to imagine entering the world under the ground.
I am also showing a group of drawings inspired by self-portraits of the Hong Kong Chinese artist Tseng Kwong Chi, in which Tseng photographed himself at well-known tourist destinations in the U.S. and abroad in the 1970s and 80s. Tseng’s work questioned issues of identity, belonging, and cultural difference during the height of the AIDS epidemic, and I consider my work as an act of cross-temporal embodiment. The drawings are juxtaposed with The Infinite Mixture of All Things Past, Present, and Future by Beatriz, that explores her engagement with temporal and spatial simultaneity through motions that are at once circular and linear and the gesture of circulating atmospheric flows that are being generated by a moving garden.
In addition, we have been entrusted with a growth of Harvey Milk’s cactus by artist and friend Julie Tolentino as a gesture of transference of multigenerational responsibility and care. Through this little cactus plant, which was propagated from a large plant that belonged to Harvey Milk, we wanted to bring attention to collective care that crosses the boundaries of human life and moves across generations, environments, walls, and borders.
The exhibition is on view by appointment through February 5, 2021. Hope you have a chance to visit.
Installation views of Becoming Atmosphere (by Beatriz Cortez and Kang Seung Lee) at 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica; Photography by Marc Walker; Courtesy of Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles