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The Breath of Fresh

2014, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art

Sungmi Lee: To be Everywhere and Nowhere···


Jee Young Maeng | DOOSAN Gallery Curator


In a city at dawn, traces from night are scattered about. If I pay attention to them, they begin to put out their stories, rattling my mind as if they were waiting for this attention. They whisper endless tales to those who are willing to look and listen, delivering all kinds of stray thoughts of life deposited during the night. For this reason, people bury themselves deep in their respective lives and try not to take interest in others’ hidden stories that deposit themselves as traces all over the street. Disregarding these things as irrelevant, people only pay attention to their own days ahead of them. On the streets are pieces of broken glass, umbrellas that reveal their metallic ribs, sidewalks stained with secretions of animals and people, and abandoned garbage that have their fragment of a story to tell, as if testifying to the existence of yesterday. My indifferent gaze ultimately becomes a part of the scene, and my fragments buried under thousands of layers are transformed into others’ stories that I will eventually neglect. In this way, the story of others and my own intermingle. 


One day, she began to collect fragments of glass (containing harsh, adrenaline-charged memories) that were discarded on the street. Although the fragments glitter, they are sharp and wild. It is impossible to picture its original form - whether they were from the same body or mixed up from different passages. Bringing those pieces gathered in from the streets, she carefully washes away the dirt and dust. More and more they come into focus, sparkling like diamonds. Like puzzles, she begins to match those fragments in distinct sizes and bits, one by one. Angular edges that seemingly do not fit together, mesh as if they were one body. She applies resin over the not yet smoothed over, edged surface. The first layer, the second layer, and the third layer ··· probably dozens of layers coated and sanded out. The uneven surface is smoothed down over time, as though it was like this form the very beginning. 


# The First Piece

At 6 a.m. everyday, my eyes open. I automatically brew coffee and pour it into a tumbler, and walk my dog Tommy, who was by my side since my college years. The morning in New York is desolate. Following Tommy, I walk down the bleak area where trees in the street are the only pieces of nature. This time belongs entirely to Tommy. Although we walk around the same neighborhood every morning, he explores the streets as if they were new to him, sniffling here and there, marking his territory. 


#The Second Piece

Although I have spent quite a long time in the United States, incomprehensible anxieties overwhelmed my daily life, and despite the familiar surroundings, I could not dispel the discomfort and suffocation. I begin to match the pieces of glass together, collected from my early morning stroll. I glimpse someone’s past memories and add mine to it; as such, another’s memories are erased, as will mine be tomorrow. Those repetitive, almost obsessive actions allow me to keep a distance from my life, and make me observe the “self” that I had forgotten. Before even noticing, the anxious feeling has disappeared far away. 


#The Third Piece

I take a shower after my walk with Tommy, and compulsively organize today’s schedule in my mind. Quickly taking notes before I forget, I start my daily routine today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. 


#The Fourth Piece

Even though I naturally wake up at 6 a.m., now thanks to my mother my morning starts at 5 a.m. I leave home with coffee in my tumbler. My daily life in New York, which usually started with a walk with Tommy, has changed since I have returned to Korea several years ago. Tommy, who I used to share my mornings with, has disappeared from my daily life. Previously I was alone for eighteen years - now my mother has entered my life again. The morning stroll has been replaced by driving on the Jayu-ro. Traces that I found from others while strolling around once inspired me; yet, on the extremely clean streets of Seoul, I can no longer hear these frantic voices calling out to me. Now, I have the time to fully return to “myself” watching the sky or the clouds while I drive. 


#The Fifth Piece

My work made in New York, consisting of shards of glass stuck together, has continued in Seoul. I felt that I should do so, in order to confirm that my self in Korea is not so different from my self in New York. In the American society, I was a complete Korean. Yet for some reason, I was not accepted as an absolute Korean when I came back to Korea. Maybe I won’t fit perfectly into any place, just like these fragments of glass. 


#The Sixth Piece

The streets in Seoul are clean and well organized. I can no longer collect pieces of glass left on the streets. Now I have started to obtain shards of glass from cars that have come into automobile service centers after accidents. I repeat the process of matching the broken fragments, putting them together, coating them, and flattening them over and over again. 




#The Three Hundred and Twenty Second Piece



Put It Together(2014)

Glass Blanket(2014)

When we carefully examine the seemingly smooth surface, we see several sharp and pointed edges. Tinged with a soft celadon hue, they are no longer fragments of disused broken glass abandoned by someone. Somebody’s face reflected on the surface overlaps with the sharpness under it, yearning for a new story. The pattern of countless layers of time, which is densely embedded in the fragments, becomes one within the simple form, finally becoming free. 

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