Web Gallery: Sangmin Lee


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Untitled Document

Artist Statement

Gesture has always been an essential element of my artwork. Even in my early paintings, I was most interested in how my brush recorded my physical gesture moving across the canvas. As my interest in gesture grew, I became dissatisfied with painting. Painting records the passing of a gesture, but does not capture the gesture itself. Thus, I sought ways to preserve the gesture.

The methods I choose involve mechanical means of making and perpetuating gestures so that visitors can experience them directly. In one series I record physical marks in two dimensions to capture the gestures of a steel ball as it is guided by a magnet across a canvas. In another series I explore the gestures of metal panels as they are struck by pins. In my latest work, I re-introduce the gestures of human beings, whose jumps on a trampoline are reproduced and manipulated on a screen.

There are three basic themes that guide the creation of my work. The first is that the image produced reveals the mechanics of its creation. Second, the creation process is ongoing with no real end point. Third, the act of creation cycles is endless.

Even though I create mechanical environments, something unexpected always develops. This is due, in part, to the fact that although my materials are predetermined, their nuanced characteristics and interrelation produce unpredictable gestures in the work. It is these unpredictable gestures that give “personality” to the work. In my view, my work is not complete either after I finish building it, nor when it stops making new marks or gestures – it is only “complete” when a viewer is engaged in observing its gestures.

Description of Artwork

Drawing Box Series

In the Drawing Box Series, I explored the “gesture” of lines becoming denser over time with repeated mechanical movement. To explore this, I used a magnet attached to motors to guide a ball bearing over a charcoal-powdered canvas. I attached the magnet to the motors and positioned these on the underside of the canvas. As the motor moved the magnet, the ball bearing on the other side of the canvas was dragged across the powder. The movement of the ball bearing across the powder created the line.

The line created by dragging a ball bearing across charcoal has interesting characteristics. The ball bearing acts like the tip of a ballpoint pen, but its effect is more like that of an eraser – the line is revealed as the charcoal is taken away. The white line was faint at first, but as the motion continued, the ball bearing compressed and displaced the powdered charcoal more and more, and a bold outer shape appeared on the surface.

I discovered an interesting “accidental” element with this series. The rough surface of the canvas caused the ball bearing to vibrate slightly as it moved. This vibration caused unexpected acoustic and visual effects. These effects were the impetus for my use of sound and vibration in my next project, the Sound Strip Series.

Sound Strip Series

While the Drawing Box Series was a study of mechanical gestures in two-dimensional lines, the Sound Strip Series explores mechanical gestures in sound and movement.

The Sound Strip Series consists of two installations (Untitled Swing I and Untitled Swing II), both of which consist of a pair of units. At the core of each unit is a concealed motor that rotates and makes a sound at regular intervals. As the motor rotates, various pins strike against any number of the long hanging “teeth,” which swing out in response. Each unit in Untitled Swing I has three teeth that are made of matte-finish aluminum, while each unit in Untitled Swing II has one tooth made of shiny stainless steel.

Each unit in Untitled Swing I has a motor that is on only eight seconds per minute. The units in Untitled Swing II rotate once per minute. Therefore, Untitled Swing I makes a loud metallic flapping chorus for eight seconds every minute, and Untitled Swing II makes a metallic sound once per minute.

If viewers are patient, they will hear that the rhythm of the sound changes each time a tooth is struck. Even though I used identical motors for the units in each piece, the performance of the motors is slightly different. This bestows each piece with individual character.

Jump: Interactive Video Installation

Jump is an interactive video installation in which the manipulated images of the viewer in the act of jumping on a trampoline appears on a screen.

I think that a trampoline not only amplifies a participant’s jump, but also their emotional state. I also think that jumping is a joyful activity. The program which manipulates the participant’s image also introduces sound and tempo to match the speed of his or her movement. Sound and image together encourage the jumper to keep jumping; the joyful “gesture” perpetuates itself in multiple dimensions.

I interpret the act of jumping as the embodiment of a wish because the word “jump” often connotes a risk taken to change thing for the better. In the act of jumping a participant is bound between two extreme states: safe stability, and unstable risk.