The Seer
Tatler Malaysia|March 2021
South Korean artist Lee Bul has wowed audiences around the world with her futuristic, sci-fi art. This month, she’s coming home
Oliver Giles
Lee Bul wakes up around noon. “I start my day with a cup of coffee and some cigarettes,” she says. She smokes about half a pack a day. “I then head to my studio, where I spend the rest of my day. I get into bed around 4am.”

While most people sleep, Lee, one of South Korea’s most famous living artists, works through the night in her Seoul studio dreaming up provocative artworks that use shimmering materials and sci-fi imagery as metaphors for humanity’s constant, desperate search for perfection. Her exploration of utopian ideals, and how they sometimes collapse into dystopian horror, has earned her international acclaim. In the past five years alone, Lee has had solo exhibitions at museums in the US, the UK, Germany, Canada and Russia, and in 2019 had two of her installations included in the Venice Biennale, considered by many to be the most important event in the art world.

“Lee Bul is truly one of the most compelling and inventive artists of her generation,” says Ralph Rugoff, curator of the 2019 Venice Biennale and director of the Hayward Gallery in London, where he hosted a show of Lee’s art in 2018. “Her work is consistently forceful.”

Lee’s latest pieces are currently on display at Lehmann Maupin gallery in New York, which has worked with her since 2008. And, after years of travelling the globe, Lee, 57, is now enjoying a homecoming. This month, the Seoul Museum of Art is opening a retrospective exhibition focused on the first decade of her work, from 1987 to 1997. Opening on March 2, Lee Bul: Beginning will run until May 16.

Today Lee focuses on making sculptures and installations, some measuring several metres long, as well as iridescent paintings that incorporate shards of mother-of-pearl. Lee builds her larger pieces in a sprawling studio in Samsong, on the northern outskirts of Seoul, with the help of her team of about ten assistants. She makes her paintings in a smaller workshop attached to her home in Seongbuk-dong, a wealthy neighbourhood perched on a steep hill, where she lives in a modernist home that has views of the Seoul skyline.

But when Lee began her career in the late Eighties, she was most interested in performance art. “I was born in the 1960s in South Korea under the country’s military dictatorship,” she says. “I came of age during a period of incredible social and economic upheaval marked by the transition to a democratic state. This political shift experienced over my lifetime has informed much of my work.”

Lee was born in 1964, three years after major-general Park Chung-hee led a military coup d’état, ousting the government and seizing control of the country. He ruled until he was assassinated in 1979. During that time, Park transformed South Korea from a democracy into a dictatorship. Under his orders, protests were violently suppressed, political dissidents were executed and thousands of homeless people were forced into labour camps, where many of them were tortured to death, creating an atmosphere of fear that permeated all aspects of life, including Lee’s childhood.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM TATLER MALAYSIAView All

Show Time

Nearly two decades in the making, the M+ museum in Hong Kong has ambitions to be the leading cultural institution in Asia—and one of the best in the world. This month, it finally opens to the public

10 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021

Still Burning Bright

Cantopop diva Anita Mui left the world at the pinnacle of her career. Eighteen years later, her producer friend Bill Kong and model Louise Wong revive her story and realise her unfulfilled wish of making a film

5 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021

Get Ready for Ramsay

Chef Gordon Ramsay tells us about his new Malaysian restaurant and reveals what local delicacy still scares him

3 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021

Le Scandale

While the rest of the world shut down, many members of Paris’s fashion elite refused to let the pandemic get in the way of a good time

7 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021

More Than Shiraz

Australia may not be the first place you think of when it comes to cabernet sauvignon, but to ignore its offerings is to miss out

7 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021

Suiting up for the Eternals

Ma Dong-seok, South Korea’s Jack of all trades, talks firsts and more

4 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021

Stronger Together

Power couple Scha Alyahya and Awal Ashaari seem to have it all—a loving marriage, beautiful family, thriving careers and an exciting business. Throughout it all, they keep their feet firmly on the ground while keeping their eye on the prize

10 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021

The Great Indoors

Jonas Wood has shot to global fame by bringing still-life painting into the 21st century. His latest exhibition opens in Hong Kong this month

8 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021

New Hit Wonders

Ever wanted to venture off the beaten path? Malaysia is blessed with so much natural beauty. Here are hidden gems worth discovering if you know where to look

4 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021

Two Become One

Three romantic couples on their journey through love, life and marriage

7 mins read
Tatler Malaysia
November 2021
RELATED STORIES

SHAWN RAY HALL OF FAME BODYBUILDER AND ACTIVE INDUSTRY ICON

Though I was aware of bodybuilding and had both seen "Pumping Iron" and flipped through a couple magazines here and there, I can tell you the exact day I decided to become a bodybuilder.

8 mins read
Muscular Development
November 2021

Under Her Skin

Julia Ducournau funneled years of fury, angst, and comedy into her Palme d’Or– winning, genre-smashing film Titane.

8 mins read
New York magazine
October 11 - 24, 2021

Relearn How to Look

Ten fall shows to train your eye.

5 mins read
New York magazine
August 30 - September 12, 2021

JUST 3 NIGHTS OF BAD SLEEP DESTROYS YOU!

NOT getting enough shut-eye for just three days in a row can “greatly deteriorate” your physical and mental well-being — and may even trigger feelings of loneliness and anger, according to a new study.

1 min read
Globe
September 06, 2021

Food to Boost Your Mood

Make nutrition the first line of defense against depression.

2 mins read
Men's Journal
January - February 2021

EXTREME AKIM!

The Brooklyn Beast Is Coming for the Arnold and the Olympia Titles!

8 mins read
Muscular Development
September 2021

CQC SAMBO

Why You Should “Fill Your Cup” With Wisdom From This Russian Close-Quarters-Combat System!

10 mins read
Black Belt
June/July 2021

PANDEMIC GIVES BOOST AS MORE STATES MOVE TO DIGITAL IDS

The card that millions of people use to prove their identity to everyone from police officers to liquor store owners may soon be a thing of the past as a growing number of states develop digital driver’s licenses.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #498

Be Our Guest

On Digest’s Podcast, Dishing With Digest, Y&R’s Eric Braeden (Victor) Reflected On His Years In Genoa City — And His Plans To Continue His Legendary Run.

9 mins read
Soap Opera Digest
May 17, 2021

ON TEST BORÉAL 47.2: OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

THIS RUGGED OCEAN CRUISER TARGETS THE GROWING MARKET FOR EXPEDITION YACHTS AND IS BRIMMING WITH BRILLIANT FEATURES THAT HAVE A WIDE APPEAL

10+ mins read
Yachting World
April 2021