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Kang Seung Lee

Welcome to the 14th installment of the interview series Meet LA’s Art Community. Check out our past interviews here.

This week, we interview Kang Seung Lee, a multidisciplinary artist. For his projects, Lee mines private and public archives (from art collections to libraries) and unearths forgotten or marginalized histories. He has said, “My work comes from the desire to challenge the narrow perspective of the biased and first-world-oriented timeline of history.” Lee has had solo exhibitions at Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, Pitzer College Art Galleries, and other venues around the world. In 2020, his new projects will be exhibited at MMCA, Seoul and the 13th Gwangju Biennale. He received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts.

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Kang Seung Lee, “Untitled (Table)” (2018), books & photos (collection of Chingusai), Buddy Issue 8 (collection of Chae-yoon Han), scrap metal, pressed flowers & pebbles from Prospect Cottage, Joon-soo Oh’s scrapbook (collection of Geun-jun Lim), gold thread embroidery on Sambe, ring (collection of Hyung-jun Choi), photos from Prospect Cottage and various places in Seoul, ceramic (California clay, soils from Derek Jarman’s Garden, Nam San, Tapgol Park), plant collecting & arrangement by Yuhur), approx. 59 x 59 x 30 inches, collection of National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (photo by Euirock Lee)

Where were you born? 

Seoul, Korea. The country was still under a military dictatorship and went through different chapters like democratization and economic development since then. I lived in quite a few places on different continents before moving to the US.

How long have you been living in Los Angeles? 

For seven years now. I worked as a trader at a diamond company for several years before going back to art school. At that time I was living and working in Mexico City where I also met my husband Geoff. We moved to Los Angeles when I decided to attend CalArts to get an MFA.

What’s your first memory of seeing art? 

As a child, I was exposed to Korean traditional art because my parents sent me to Seo-dang, a traditional school where I learned calligraphy, traditional writing, and painting. The first contemporary artwork that made a big impression on me was Lee Bul’s sculpture and installation — I was in high school and was completely blown away by her work, she is still one of my favorite artists.

Do you like to photograph the art you see? If so, what device do you use to photograph? 

I do, and I use my phone.

What was your favorite exhibition in Los Angeles this year? 

Candice Lin’s solo exhibition, Natural History: A Half-Eaten Portrait, an Unrecognizable Landscape, a Still, Still Life, recently opened at Pitzer College Art Galleries. The show consists of a full-scale monumental ceramic sarcophagus of the artist with her future cat, and a few other vitrines for colonies of beetles that are living on a diet, including Lin’s dried skin and fingernails. It is extraordinary, a must-see.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

Jimmie Durham’s Waiting To Be Interrupted (2013); it’s a collection of Durham’s writings, 1993–2012. I love his rejection of identities as rigid ideas and his disregard for recognition by other people, and often think about his beautiful retrospective show at the Hammer Museum (2017). I am also reading Leslie Dick’s novels from the late ’80s and early ’90s, they are amazing.

Do you prefer to see art alone or with friends? 

Both. I love going to exhibitions with friends, seeing art alone without interrupting each one’s experience, and talking about it over coffee or a meal.

What are you currently working on? 

I am currently working on a commissioned work by the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul and a new project for this year’s Gwangju Biennale. Both projects are about how to imagine a queer future collectively and in collaboration with many wonderful artists and scholars. In addition, I am working on a collaborative project with my dear friend and colleague Beatriz Cortez for an exhibition at 18th Street Art Center this fall.

What is one accomplishment that you are particularly proud of? 

Last year I co-curated an exhibition titled QueerArch in Seoul, which consisted of newly commissioned works by young queer artists based in Seoul. All of the artists used a queer archive called QueerArch (aka Korea Queer Archive) as the catalyst for their work. I am proud that we were able to create a conversation about the invisible memories of queer lives and different generations of artists and activists in Korea through the exhibition.

Where do you turn to for inspiration for your projects? 

Almost everything but particularly my generous friends who share their stories from many different times and places.

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Elisa Wouk Almino

Elisa Wouk Almino is a senior editor at Hyperallergic. She is based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.