When old meets new in a gallery, performance art is winner

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When old meets new in a gallery, performance art is winner

In this corner is the elder statesman of experimental art, and in the other corner a promising newcomer in the field.

Is it a fight or friendship? Judging by the name of the show, "Title Match Series," it's a fight. But everything else says it's a friendly exhibition, between Lee Seung-taek, 70, and an artist who goes by the name "ium," 31.

Their joint exhibition, at Ssamzie Space in western Seoul, shows how old and new can mesh to bring avant-garde harmony. Mr. Lee has been a pioneer of experimental art here in Korea since the 1960s, while ium is considered to be an artist of the 21st century. Both base their works on the themes of wind and spirit, which they display through video art, photography and physical installations.

Mr. Lee's works deal in "anti-concept" -- he creates environmental installations and performances centered on amorphous themes such as fire, air, wind and smoke. He first became inspired with the idea of nonsubstance art in 1958. "I wanted to create art works that were totally unique and could find no match throughout the world," Mr. Lee said. Accordingly, his works portray the transitory, such as drawings of smoke and displays of wind blowing through trees. In performance art, he lets loose a large piece of fabric in the air.

When on hand at Ssamzie Space's main gallery, Mr. Lee walks about explaining his works to visitors and telling them about his distinctive philosophy.

His counterpart ium, who is averse to using her real name or capital letters, calls her work "ruach," which in Hebrew means wind, breath, spirit and life. She designs her visual artwork to capture such invisible and intangible aspects of life through displays such as papier-mache that decorate an entire room. But her key work is her voice performance videos, in which she sings a self-composed nonlyrical melody in an attempt to make a spiritual connection with the audience. Her voice installation is a continuous play of gothic-like songs and spiritual chants.

Are the two artists a good match? "Our themes both center on the nonphysical, immaterial aspects of life," Mr. Lee said. "But ium's work is more focused on the spiritual message, whereas I show nature in its truest form."

by Choi Jie-ho

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