Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Myoung Ho Lee: A tree grows in Korea
"Tree # 8," Myoung Ho Lee, All rights reserved
Sometimes a simple conceptual idea, applied with conviction & skill, can make an artwork come alive. Myoung Ho Lee's "Tree" series places a white canvas-like backdrop behind individual trees in a landscape. Something happens.
The tree, now undeniably a photograph of a tree, becomes symbolic of itself. The background is now formally separate from the tree & becomes more (or less) "real." In addition to its witty reference to painting -- photography's arty older sibling -- the canvas adds a pleasing but unnatural rectangle to the composition. The picture becomes more complicated, arguably more interesting. For one thing, it moves out of the make-believe realm of nature-without-human-influence.
The tree now fulfills Susan Sontag's admonition to the photographer from On Photography, "...photographic seeing has to be constantly renewed with new shocks, whether of subject matter or technique, so as to produce the impression of violating ordinary vision."
But that can't be all . If -- as I do -- you love trees as beautiful creatures, Lee's deconstructive strategies are interesting but finally not satisfying. You're tempted to quote the cartoon Lorax, "Who shall speak for the trees?" And here is the photographer's answer: "Seeing trees in a refreshing way or restoring the value of trees is to awaken all beings on earth..."
Largest-sized gallery & an interview with the artist is here.
Myoung Ho Lee's work was pointed out by my colleague, designer Christina Baute. Check out her design for the "Zero dollar bill" .