Critics’ Picks

Jung Lee, Promise Me, 2018, C-print, Diasec Sheet, 63 x 78 3/4".

Jung Lee, Promise Me, 2018, C-print, Diasec Sheet, 63 x 78 3/4".


Jung Lee

Christophe Guye Galerie
Dufourstrasse 31
November 25, 0201–March 5, 2022

In Jung Lee’s first solo exhibition outside Asia, the South Korean artist reveals the acheiropoetic power of the simple neon phrases she installs and photographs in desolate landscapes. Among the ten large-scale C-prints on view, the eponymous message of Promise Me, 2018, irradiates wiry brambles with its turquoise glow, while the hot-pink letters in I Love You with All My Heart #2, 2020, stand out against a blanket of undisturbed, ultraviolet-tinged snow. By contrast, the three photogravures in the show relinquish such immersive drama: Barely the size of a human face, each dusky print features a single word as it illuminates a wedge of its surroundings amid the darkness. Their archival aura suggests an old photo of a found object, while hairline etch marks—difficult to distinguish from the saplings just reached by light—hint at the artist’s hand.

If neon conjures the insomniac modernity of cities like Seoul, where Lee works, the idea that nature could provoke and showcase poetic utterances echoes a premise of classical East Asian painting. The collective estrangement writ into the Korean Peninsula, meanwhile, deepens the artist’s theme of unanswered longing. Leading up to her current formats, Lee spent several years photographing North Korea’s borderlands as seen from South Korea and China, then superimposing the resulting images with hypnotic lines of Juche propaganda like “We Are in Heaven.” Abidingly, her works favor the ad hoc universality of English, and environments with a touch of the forsaken—foggy edges of woodland or wetland, shot at liminal hours when neon and natural light blend to dreamlike effect. Encountered up close, these pictures burn like candlelight, with a quiet patience and persistence to match the passion of their address.