Lee Bul’s shiny, giant metal Zeppelin – Willing To Be Vulnerable

Lee Bul - Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, installation view of Crashing” at Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London, 2018, photo Linda Nylind
Lee Bul – Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, Heavy-duty fabric, metalized film, transparent film, polyurethane ink, fog machine, LED lighting, electronic wiring, dimensions variable, installation view of Crashing at Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London, 2018, photo: Linda Nylind

Intro

Lee Bul’s installation that saw the transformation of the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery took place in 2018 between May and August. Occupying the entire art space, this exhibition was the artist’s first-ever solo show in London. In it, more than 118 other pieces created from the late 1980s to now were also showcased. However, it is the Zeppelin piece that had audiences completely enamored and fascinated during the show.

Installation view of Lee Bul, Willing To Be Vulnerable - Metalized Balloon, 2019, at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2019
Lee Bul – Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, Heavy-duty fabric, metalized film, transparent film, polyurethane ink, fog machine, LED lighting, electronic wiring, dimensions variable, installation view, Art Basel Hong Kong, 2019, photo: Public Delivery

Why did Lee create the Zeppelin?

From the late 1980s to now, this pioneering Korean artist has been instrumental in generating a wide array of artworks, which draw on a mix of references. The Zeppelin, in particular, was designed to transport visitors in attendance to another place and time with the hope of exploring the aspirations of contemporary society and the resulting failures within it.

Video: Willing To Be Vulnerable at the 20th Biennale of Sydney, 2016

2 min 54 sec

Historical reference

Lee’s work Willing To Be Vulnerable (2015-16) was represented by a massive foil Hindenburg Zeppelin. With this piece, the artist continued her investigation of utopian ideas and their effect on history and society. If you can recall your history, the Zeppelin was an airship that was pioneered and named after the then German Count known as Ferdinand von Zeppelin1.

Lee Bul - Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, Australia, photo Ben Symons:Biennale of Sydney)
Lee Bul – Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, Heavy-duty fabric, metalized film, transparent film, polyurethane ink, fog machine, LED lighting, electronic wiring, dimensions variable, installation view on Cockatoo Island at 20th Biennale of Sydney, 2016, photo: Ben Symons/Biennale of Sydney

At the start of the 20th century, these futuristic airships represented modernity and progress but their popularity came to an end after a Zeppelin carrying 96 passengers went up in flames2 while attempting to land. The Hindenburg symbolized German innovation in the early 1930s before its disastrous crash.

Lee Bul - Willing to Be Vulnerable - Metalised Balloon V4, 2022, installation view, Manifesta 14, 2022
Lee Bul – Willing to Be Vulnerable – Metalised Balloon V4, 2015/2020, fabric, PET film, air blower, electronic wiring, 17 meter long, installation view, Palace of Youth and Sports, Manifesta 14, Prishtina, Kosovo, 2022, photo: Manifesta 14 Prishtina/Ivan Erofeev

As such, Lee created the piece to draw attention to the different ways that technology can harm people even when the same technology is developed with the best of intentions, highlighting the unavoidable downsides of a society that keeps evolving technology. Willing To Be Vulnerable investigates utopian modernism and how pioneering narratives and concepts of progress affect the way the world is structured now and in the future.

Lee Bul - Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, Australia
Lee Bul – Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, Heavy-duty fabric, metalized film, transparent film, polyurethane ink, fog machine, LED lighting, electronic wiring, dimensions variable, installation view on Cockatoo Island at 20th Biennale of Sydney, 2016, photo: Algirdas Bakas/Studio Lee Bul

Working with the space

As she did with the other 117 pieces, Lee took advantage of the distinctive design of the gallery and used it as a collaborator rather than just using it as a mere backdrop. The 17-meter-long Zeppelin structure was docked inside the Haywards’ upper galleries and was installed to hover above the gallery’s reflective floors.

Lee Bul - Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, installation view of Crashing” at Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London, 2018
Lee Bul – Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, Heavy-duty fabric, metalized film, transparent film, polyurethane ink, fog machine, LED lighting, electronic wiring, dimensions variable, installation view of Crashing at Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London, 2018, photo: Southbank Centre

Augmented reality version, 2022

In September 2022, Lee Bul premiered the augmented reality version of Willing To Be Vulnerable in a group exhibition at the Leeum Art Museum in Seoul and Ho-Am Art Museum in Yongin.

Titled KaleidoScope Eyes, the exhibition allowed visitors to appreciate the works of artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Tomás Saraceno, Cao Fei and others in unexpected places outside of the art spaces. 38 augmented reality works by 16 artists were presented.

The aim of the exhibition was to open up infinite possibilities to utilize the virtual world and transform the act of experiencing art by transcending reality and traditional art concepts. Standing on the borderline between dream and reality, artists and the audience could communicate with each other through new media and imagine the future possibilities brought by technological advancement.

Lee Bul – Willing To Be Vulnerable, Metalized Balloon Ver. AR22>(2022), augmented reality, 2022, courtesy of Lee Bul & Leeum Art Museum
Lee Bul – Willing To Be Vulnerable, Metalized Balloon Ver. AR22>(2022), augmented reality, 2022, courtesy of Lee Bul & Leeum Art Museum

Video: Interview with Lee Bul

4 min 41 sec

Lee Bul’s work & inspiration

Lee has been created thought-provoking artwork since the 1980s. Her work often revisits past experiences in her own life and history with the hopes of imagining what the future would look like had the events not occurred.

Born in South Korea during president Park Chung-hee’s3 dictatorship, Lee saw the rapid modernization that occurred in Korea during the 1960s and 1970s. Often, the projects undertaken during this period were left half-finished, and the individuals working on them often suffered as a result. Consequently, her artwork is often strongly related to her upbringing and childhood, which explains why her work is also so strongly linked to the modern.

Lee’s work covers a wide range of issues, from the failure of social gender roles and progressive ideals to the relationship between humans and technology. The artist builds on themes of critical theory, art history, speculative fiction and works across genres.

Lee Bul - Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, Australia, photo Algirdas Bakas
Lee Bul – Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–2016, Heavy-duty fabric, metalized film, transparent film, polyurethane ink, fog machine, LED lighting, electronic wiring, dimensions variable, installation view on Cockatoo Island at 20th Biennale of Sydney, 2016, photo: Algirdas Bakas/Studio Lee Bul

 

All images by Studio Lee Bul unless otherwise noted.

Footnotes

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_von_Zeppelin
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindenburg_disaster
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_Chung-hee

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