〈The Tree of All〉, 2023.

Photo collage, print on canvas, dimensions variable
Commissioned by Asia Culture Center

Eunjung Lee has produced works that capture the “strata of time” through the modes of stitching and pen drawing. Her works reconstruct subjects that express the flow of time such as skin wrinkles, wood grains, crumbling surfaces of old buildings, and scars from wounds. This exhibition presents The Tree of All (2023), a soft sculpture* commissioned by the Asia Culture Center.

The Tree of All was inspired by the “witness trees” outside the Asia Culture Center that have bullet marks left on them from the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement. Michael Van Valkenburgh christened the trees “witness trees” when landscaping the site, ensuring that the trees stood as major formative elements of the Conservation Zone that leads to the square.
Recreating the trees that have borne witness to Korea’s painful history in an interior space, Lee posits the tree and every one of us making history today as witnesses of our time.

To produce this work, the artist printed images of the hundreds of trees she photographed across the nation onto canvas sheets, then stitched up the teum among the image fragments. The act of stitching is often associated with femininity and deemed decorative craftwork, but it is also a form of reparatory labor through which wounds are sutured and objects are mended. Lee uses red thread in this work to visualize recovery from a history of bloodshed. The repetitive act of stitching constitutes an endeavor accumulative of time, endowing the work with the temporality of the years it took Korea to rise above its painful history.

The five trees, whose branches are intertwined and stitched together, formatively constitute a giant yeolliji (two trees in close proximity that grow into one). Lee states that tree bark often reminds her of human flesh and wrinkles, while three branches remind her of a human figure with arms extended toward the sky. In terms of human emotions, yeolliji symbolize love. Two trees that grow while sharing limited space spread their branches and leaves wide open to receive as much sunlight as possible, and in the process, their bodies meet and become entwined. Little by little, the trees realize they need to rely on each other to survive and make up for their deficiencies, ultimately conjoining their bodies to become a single tree.

Stitching different images of trees together and weaving them into a new sculptural form is a transitional and evolutionary process that marks the beginning of a humble miracle. Miracles are likely to happen, not when one strives alone, but when two, three, or more people join forces. Gazing into the teum in the stitched-up images, in between the trees, and in between the past and present, viewers will be able to recognize the new spaces created by the trees.

*Soft sculpture is a type of sculpture made using cloth, paper, fibers, plastic, and other supple and nonrigid materials.

Jiwon Yu

〈Phantasmagoria〉, 2023.

Jiwon Yu Visual commentary

〈Phantasmagoria〉, 2023.

Eunjung Lee

〈The Tree of All〉, 2023.

Eunjung Lee Visual commentary

〈The Tree of All〉, 2023.

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