Mire Lee on the cannibalistic imagination

Mire Lee’s monuments gush, gape, weep, and macerate. Drawing inspiration from body horror, hentai, scatology, and vorarephilia, the South Korean sculptor fabricates hyperbolically visceral forms that she mounts onto scaffolding or suspends from the ceiling and equips with clunky low-tech motors. Actors in a theater of abjection, her histrionic automatons discharge liquids through intestinal tubing or deploy churning blades to tear soft materials to wet, grisly bits. Lately, Lee has been interested in holes, which she characterizes as erotic sites of seepage and compression as well as affective zones beyond the reach of language. Her drippy, orifice-riddled environment-cum-exhibition “Black Sun,” on view at the New Museum in New York from June 29 to September 17, takes up the psychoanalytic theories of Julia Kristeva, who wrote of a melancholic state wherein the Other is “better fragmented, torn, cut up, swallowed, digested . . . than lost.” Below, Lee considers a sculptural field predicated on impossible urges and ineffable voids.

I THOUGHT ABOUT calling my exhibition at the New Museum “Assholes,” but decided that was too direct. The show is an immersive installation with kinetic sculptures that ooze and tumble liquid clay, set against walls lined in clay-dipped fabric. When I conceived of it, I was looking at images of different kinds of gaping holes online, and thinking about the ways in which a body that stays open is radically permeable to the outer world: Inside comes out and outside comes in. The anus in particular is a kind of erogenous hole that obliterates language; it is both a subject that cannot speak and something unspeakable. “Black Sun,” which I settled on as an exhibition title, references Julia Kristeva’s 1987 book on depression and melancholy in relation to artmaking. When you’re in the depths of depression, you don’t only lose the desire or need to communicate, you also experience what fundamentally cannot be verbalized. So you fall into holes and voids.


Holes first appeared in my art by accident: I was working with liquids, and the containers that I made to hold those liquids often leaked. Controlling leakage was an obsession that ultimately became a kind of impossibility. I grew interested in making deliberately leaky bodies, resulting in motorized sculptures in which fluids spurt and drip from tubes, such as the work I showed at the Venice Biennale last year [Endless House: Holes and Drips, 2022] or alongside H. R. Giger’s sculpture at the Schinkel Pavillon in 2021 [Carriers – offspring, 2021; Endless House, 2021].


Growing up, I consumed a lot of manga and drew my own erotic versions to entertain myself. When I was ten years old, my father, who is a surrealist sculptor, gave me a catalogue of Giger’s work, which had a big impact on me. I’ve found that there’s something inherently stupid about sculpture as a medium: It necessitates so much labor to produce, and when it inevitably fails, its rigidity means that it requires copious effort to alter and fix. I’m constantly encountering my limits as I realize that my visions or ambitions exceed their container. I like to incorporate motorized elements because they have a crude appearance and act beyond my control; when I use machinery to process malleable materials like clay or silicone, it distorts those media into strange forms that I couldn’t have anticipated. People often tether my animatronic sculptures to conversations about technology, but what’s happening in my work is in fact fairly analog and runs counter to the slick aesthetic of new technologies and new media. What intrigues me is the gap between human fantasies of technology in an ideally rendered world, and real life, which is something that you can touch and smell, full of sagging subjects that have been deformed by their passage through time.

Vorarephilia, or the erotic desire to either consume or be consumed by the other, has profoundly inspired my sculptural practice. Formally, I like that vore pertains to interiors, holes, and channels, and that it foregrounds perversions of scale; in order to swallow the other being, the swallowing subject must be larger. On an affective level, I’m moved by the motive of the fetish: this impossible urge to unite so completely with the object of desire that you are inside of them, or they are inside of you, which connects to Kristevian ideas of cannibalistic imagination. I explore vore through consumption and regurgitation in standalone sculptures, but it’s also an atmosphere that I try to build around my installations so viewers might feel consumed by the work. How my sculptures are experienced ultimately comes down to where viewers are at in their own lives, but I think that these works are particularly well suited to the many points in life when things stop making sense and collapse in on themselves.


July 3, 2023
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