People / Critic

Lee Sungeun - Am I in My Dream?

posted 31 Dec 2021


〈Hi〉, VR, 360도 카메라, 설치, 가변 크기, 2019, 《2019 플랫폼 아티스트》 전시 전경(인천아트플랫폼, 인천, 2019). 이미지 인천아트플랫폼 제공.

〈Hi〉, VR, 360 degree camera, installation, dimension variable, 2019, Exhibition view of 《2019 Platform Artists (Incheon Art Platform, Incheon, 2019)》. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.

LEE Sungeun’s work deals with the technique of ‘identification of self’, one of the most important questions faced by the world today. The identification of the self means to recognize oneself as a consistent and integrated being, and involves the ability to distinguish the self from others by recognizing oneself as an invariable element with the same space-time and coordinates. Such distinction is historical and has been a key condition for building modern social, political and mental structure in the evolution of the concept of ‘individual’since the beginning of modern times after the Renaissance. The most radical definition of the identity of the self is that it reigns over the world as an absolute subject, to the extent that one often hears about humans having reached the state of ‘Homo Deus’, implying the idea of man reaching the state of God through the advancement of technology. And on the opposite side lies psychoanalytical cases which suggest the collapse or multiplication of identification like ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘separation’. The various narratives about overlapping of split egos, such as the stories about multiple personality disorder as shown in the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, have been appropriating the technique of immersing in such states as the medium, such as medication or hypnosis. Today, where the multiple ego can be detected through countless technological devices and methods, other means such as medicine, magic, hypnosis and addiction no longer seem needed. The division and otherizing of the self within the individual has become common, and the desire to exist and gaze omnidirectionally, as well as the ability to instantly and repetitively transfer to countless channels and sites, has become universal.


〈Hi〉, VR, 360도 카메라, 설치, 가변 크기, 2019, 이미지 인천아트플랫폼 제공.

〈Hi〉, VR, 360 degree camera, installation, dimension variable, 2019. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.

The artist suffers from a condition called narcolepsy. Living with a condition where he has no control over where and when he falls asleep, he is always conscious of what situation he may fall asleep in. What’s interesting is that he’s trying to learn a technique to recognize if he is asleep or not when he’s in a state of sleep. One of such techniques includes looking for a particular object such as a mirror and looking at himself. Not only does such motive become clearer when he’s having a lucid dreaming, where he’s aware of the fact that he’s dreaming when he actually is, he also has a unique experience of recognizing himself in a state of chiaroscuro. From such experiences, the artist started usingthe dissociative gaze upon himself as the subject of his work, and the first work to apply this gaze is Self Handshake (2012). After his studies in mechanical engineering, the artist’s first attempt in choosing artistic practice in light of his existential situation was devising goggles that made him look at himself like a mirror, using oculus rift and webcam. This device, which sets himself as the subject looking and observing himself as the subject constantly in everyday life, reflects the structure of his condition which makes him obsessively aware of himself. The work that followed was Living Life in 3rd Person View (2015), which was produced later, and this time led to a structure that looked down from above. Such work wherein one constantly follows and observes oneself from multiple angles recalls a unique narrative structure like out-of-body-experience or selfstalking. Obviously, these phenomena not only remind us of the gaze of fictional beings like the afterlife or apparitions, but also remind us of the perspective of guardian angels or transcendental existence. In 2015, the artist was chosen for the virtual reality (VR) project, DA VINCI CREATIVE 2015 (Seoul Art Space Geumcheon), through which he produced and exhibited Death in Virtual Reality. This work invited the audience to a near-death experience through VR, presenting the perspective of someone who has just deceased at a hospital and looks down at their family mourning.


〈Hi〉, VR, 360도 카메라, 설치, 가변 크기, 2019, 이미지 인천아트플랫폼 제공.

〈Hi〉, VR, 360 degree camera, installation, dimension variable, 2019. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.

He has been producing works in artistic context and criticism through his involvement in residency programs and other experiences in creative communities with other artists. In Ethereal, too perfect for this world (2017), produced with funding, a large robot was installed to enhance the theatrical situation in the exhibition, and the work offered a VR experience of trying to strangle the viewer wearing the goggles, seen from the perspective of the robot from the back. In the VR work Things That Happen at the Same Time (2018), one’s own self is produced in 3D, and collapses when the person wearing the goggles approaches. Inspired by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the artist’s work MetaMorphosis,is a type of daily performance where the users wear third-person goggles from morning to night. He observes himself through the third-person point of view, and eventually adapts to living with eyes outside of his body. Through this work, the audience comes to take a glimpse into the everyday life of the artist who experiences his ego that has metamorphosized into a monster with a strange body with its eyes outside of its body, which reminds one of the short story There are more things by Jorge Luis Borges. Ramachandran’s concept of the ‘phantom limb’ which the artist appropriates in his work, is closely related to this subject. According to his work, it’s possible for a person who has been wounded and lost a part of his body in the war can train his brain to remember the structure of the body that is no longer there, to feel as if it’s still naturally there.


〈Hi〉, VR, 360도 카메라, 설치, 가변 크기, 2019, 이미지 인천아트플랫폼 제공.

〈Hi〉, VR, 360 degree camera, installation, dimension variable, 2019. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.

The theory of virtuality in the world in which we exist leads to a wide range of theoretical possibilities, from Kant’s constructive judgment to Wittgenstein’s logical pursuit of ‘certainty’. The artist’s work No Boundary Meditation Car (2018) began by questioning what signals make someone in a lucid dreaming realize that they’re dreaming, and explores ways of discovering situations that are conducted in contrary to their will. The audience comes to have experiences within his dream, using an EEG detector. In the dream, the car stops when the audience tries to move it, and in reverse, the car would move when the audience tries to stop it. Modafinil (2018), meaning a stimulant, is a work in which the artist carried around a scanner and photographed non-specific spaces. In particular, he shot an elevator with mirrors on both sides, reaching an infinite proliferation of countless spaces. The work carried on as a performance in which the artist looks for the original elevator that he entered in the first place. Here, various experiences to confirm whether he’s dreaming or not continues. Bug Detector of the Simulation Universe (2018) is a game which assumes the real world as a type of virtual program, and searches for a bug in the world. This work presents a pseudophysical phenomenon and shows the narrative of ‘N + 1 dimensional world view’ which attracts the attention of ‘programmer’ existing in the upper dimension. Starting with questions about his own condition of narcolepsy in the last few years,


〈Hi〉, VR, 360도 카메라, 설치, 가변 크기, 2019, 이미지 인천아트플랫폼 제공.

〈Hi〉, VR, 360 degree camera, installation, dimension variable, 2019. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.

Lee demonstrates the development of fascinating narratives that lead to his imagination on the virtuality of the world and the will for non-visual subject. With the prospect of Internet Singularity and super-humanity today, facing a new history of mankind with the changes in new technology, the significance of his artistic attempts is immense. Hopefully, this will provide the artist great encouragements, along with proper criticism of his work.


※ This content was first published in 『2019 Incheon Art Platform Residency Program Cataloge』, and re-published here with the consent of Incheon Art Platform

Yoo Jin Sang / professor, Kaywon school of art and design

A professor at the Kaywon School of Art and Design, an art critic and former artistic director of Media City Seoul (2012). Recent curatorial activities includes the 2014 Super Romantics, for the Daegu Art Factory; Better Than Universe, with ZKM for the Daegu Media Art Festival 2013. He was a juror on the TV Show Art Star Korea in its first season in 2014. His PhD is from University of Paris VIII, Saint-Denis. 

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