Lee Wan, 5.06 kg No. 04/60 (detail), 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Lee Wan, 5.06 kg No. 04/60 (detail), 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Lee Wan

Art Space Pool

Lee Wan, 5.06 kg No. 04/60 (detail), 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Adding to the characteristics that potentially qualify art objects as such—quality notwithstanding—it seems that weight has finally made the list. For the series “How to become us,” 2011, Lee Wan made assemblages using found objects under one condition—that each work weigh the same. Implementing this purely quantitative register as an artistic norm, Lee engages in a critique of standardized value systems in general. The artist collected sixty random used or discarded objects (mostly from secondhand stores in central Seoul), added up the weight of all the objects, then divided it by the number of items, thus determining the average weight for each to be 5.06 kilograms. In the spirit of equal distribution, Lee then ruthlessly divided or combined all the objects into entities weighing 5.06 kilograms each; some had to be brutally cut into pieces (e.g., a refrigerator or an outdoor table) while others needed to be piled up like Arte Povera trophies in order to meet the criterion. Thus, 5.06 kg No. 09/60 (all works 2011) is an assemblage composed of a toy cruise ship, a cocktail glass, a hammer, a knife, a can of Spam, half a gold-plated miniature Buddha, and more.

Sixty new units were created, all unique and extraordinary in their appearance: 5.06 kg No. 07/60 is a fragment of a utility pole made of reinforced cement, while 5.06 kg No. 33/60 involves a dried pollock wrapped in a skein of white thread (often used as a good-luck charm) sitting on a small video monitor. Spread out on a low stage in the main exhibition space, the arranged objects seemed somehow radiant, even animate—as if happy to have been resuscitated from the urban refuse pile and feeling comfortable with their newfound exhibition value. The vivid industrial colors used in low-end consumer products added to the festive atmosphere of the installation, which called to mind an out-of-control garage sale. If Comte de Lautréamont could find beauty in “the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella,” then surely the gathering of a brightly colored broom, a mop, and a golden trophy poked into a Styrofoam box containing bottles of mineral water extracted from the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas and a capped glass bottle in a plastic case bearing the retro-style logo of a soda brand (5.06 kg No. 04/60) should do just as well. Given a specifically local context, the selection of the objects themselves is a dystopian historiography of the postcapitalist metropolis. Lest one miss the invisible rule applied to the intriguing display, in the adjacent room, more units rested on industrial scales that point to the magic number.

In Lee’s previous work, objects were displaced from their original contexts and intricately manipulated to take on completely different guises: Chicken meat was mixed with resin to be made into baseballs, and objects such as a hammer or a brick were ground and polished, some (such as the hammer) to the point of becoming mirrors. Although Lee’s works are motivated by a conceptual premise based on the reevaluation of existing systems—the results being professionally finished consumer goods in the earlier instance, sensuously arranged assemblages in the recent installation—they also reveal his fascination with labor-intensive, aestheticizing processes. What’s most impressive, however, is how well his subversive ideas and meticulous outputs balance out; his work is equally stimulating for both the eyes and the mind.

Shinyoung Chung