Born 1964 in Yeongju, South Korea Lives and works in Seoul, South Korea
Korean artist Lee Bul’s multifaceted artistic practice spans more than 20 years, encompassing drawing, performance, sculpture, installation and video. She is recognised for her technically precise, futuristic sculptures and architecturally influenced, large-scale, immersive installations. Lee Bul’s works deal with visionary narratives, and themes such as the legacy of modernism, the potential of technology, gender and sexuality, the limits of the human body and its interface with the mechanistic, the role of popular culture in the formation of identity, and humankind’s obsession with perfection.
In recent years, Lee Bul has engaged more deeply with the exploration of social structures and ideas surrounding our pursuit of utopia through increasingly large-scale installations that incorporate significant structural elements, often referencing science fiction and the innovations of modernity. Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2016, is a new, site-specific work created for the Turbine Hall of the Industrial Precinct on Cockatoo Island, a central focus of the Embassy of the Real. The work is monumental in scale, filling the cathedral-sized, 1640-square-metre industrial space with forms that echo the shapes of the landscape, creating a network of memory that is emblematic of the dreams and aspirations of humanity.
The installation invites the viewer to enter a space that is filled with echoes of the familiar, yet at the same time is surreal and alien; to traverse the threshold and become lost for a moment in a world that offers a glimpse of an alternate reality, or perhaps a possible future. As with many science fiction novels, Lee Bul’s installation is at once aspirational and optimistic, yet also suggestive of ruin, fragmentation and destruction, thus exploring the intrinsic tension that exists within utopian idealism. Comprising an assemblage of interconnected formations redolent of a circus or carnival, and a series of epic, balloon-like structures, the futuristic installation carries resonances of the infamous Hindenburg airship – a symbol of progress and modernity in the early twentieth century which, on 6 May 1937, ended in well-documented disaster and fiery destruction.
Lee Bul investigates the human condition and the inherent contradictions of utopia, the concept that the ideal is always there, just beyond our grasp, and so we are fated to continue yearning and striving for that which is essentially unattainable. In the words of the artist, ‘Our plans about utopia are undoubtedly going to fail. But as human beings, just because it’s destined to fail doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming about it. We need to keep trying, don’t we?’
Lee Bul has exhibited widely internationally, with select solo shows including ‘Lee Bul: Aubade III’, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015); ‘Lee Bul’, Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló, Castelló (2015); ‘Lee Bul: Biennale internationale design SaintÉtienne’, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Saint-Etienne Métropole (2015); and ‘MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2014: LEE BUL’, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2014–15). Recent group shows include ‘Renaissance 2015’, Lille 3000, Lille (2015); and ‘Burning Down the House’, 10th Gwangju Biennale (2014).
 Emerson Rosenthal, ‘Lee Bul’s Labyrinth of Infinity Mirrors: Via Negativa II’, The Creators Project, http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/en_uk/blog/lee-bul-via-negativa-ii, viewed 8 April 2015.