As an installation artist, Eunsook Lee grafts commemorative narratives of wartime soldiers and victims onto challenging, multisensory, contemporary art forms. Motivated by the tragedies of her own family history—her father left his family in North Korea and later passed away never having had a chance to reunite with them— Lee has sought to engage in the collective and personal sense of wartime trauma. As a reminder of the sorrow of separated families, she has exhibited her public light art in high-profile locations: Vanished Berlin Wall in Berlin, Separated Names at the DMZ in Korea, and Chair of Understanding in Hong Kong. She hopes to see the reunification of separated families not only from North and South Korea but among people displaced by conflicts around the world. In her search for a way to heal her own personal trauma—resulting from her family situation and an injury suffered while creating her art work— Lee suggests artistic healing through overlapping fragments of history. Her artistic tools include polyester film, archived photographs, fluorescent neon threads, acrylic, and black lighting. Lee’s projects require painstaking manual fabrication and the collaboration of many hands, a process in which the artist and participants can meditate and better grasp the meaning of life based on the importance of human connections.
Eunsook Lee is a Korean artist who works internationally. She had presented numerous solo and group exhibitions in Korea, Hong Kong, Canada, USA, Germany, and Swiss. Recognition she has received includes First Place in the 2015 Contemporary Visual Art Competition by the AHL Foundation, the first “Go Unikorea Festival” concert background artwork director, and Innovative Use of Materials at Fiberarts International '97 in Pittsburg, PA. Lee’s education includes a Master of Fine Arts from Hongik University and a BFA in Fine Arts from Ewha Womans University in Korea.
In April of 1986, I was working with paraffin which overheated and 40% of my body was burned. After graduating from a woman’s university and majoring in embroidery, I had always dreamed of being married, being the best wife and a mother and working on my art. It had only been a year, after giving birth to my two children, that I was finally living the life that I had dreamed of, reconnecting with the artist within me. A year, and my whole body was burned and I was looking at death, face to face. I changed.
Is there an afterlife? Was there a life before this? Why was I here? Are these worlds connected?
My children can continue their life, live and grow even after I die, but my work stops the moment I stop living. This led me to constantly think and worry about my work which is completely dependent on me. The doctors told me that I would not be able to use my right hand. Forever. In those hours of despair, all I could do was pray. Then one day, I met Jesus in my dream and He sent 5 bright rays of light onto my fingers.
I decided not to believe in the doctors and underwent 8 surgeries and 3 years of rehabilitation. Every living moment was agony, but slowly, my fingers started to move. Although still numb, they were moving and the doctors told me it was a miracle. The fact that I was able to move my fingers again was a newly acquired skill. I started to work on projects that constantly kept my fingers working. The first artwork from my new life was called ‘Body and Soul’ (1989) and was my first installation art. In the project, I used UV light, to introduce the many souls I had encountered at the doorsteps of death. I wanted my small existence to be known and came up with a 10 meter installation work, The ‘Waiting Soul’ (1994) followed by ‘Umbilical Cord’ (1994), The ‘Lost Embryo’ (1999), all to express life. Thread is like blood vessels to me.
Untangling of the thread on a reel and dream-like images seen under the darkened UV light speak of my life. Amongst critics who ridiculed my works as a rendezvous of plastic pieces and fluorescence underneath a disco light, I persisted my storytelling. In 2010, my father passed away without ever having heard of his children in the north. In my next exhibition, I made an installation at DMZ that included all the vowels and consonants of the names of separated families, to appease my father’s wounded soul. I started looking deeper within. Hurt from the loved ones doesn’t always start with something as grandiose as war. It can start with a simple misunderstanding, but the pain is as real and as damaging, if not more. Although close in proximity, there are many families who are cut off from one another. To me, Yarn is the thread
that connects what has been separated, for a more hopeful tomorrow. I sincerely desire that my work with yarn may send a message of comfort, of understanding, and of peace.