Trees rooted (American Deserts), things floating (Thing), the body as part of and separate from the landscape (Wasteland), weightless pagodas (Pagodas), and here, repetitive scenes of the water and its surroundings (Untitled). Whatever the subject, Jungjin Lee’s pictures resonate. They are at once calming and disquieting. How do we fit in to this incomprehensible thing we call the universe? We feel empty but not, we’re alone but not, we’re sometimes at the edge, but of what? It has to do with the vastness of nature and the inability to understand time, Lee reminds us. The concept seems concrete because we can ask the questions, but it ends up being abstract because we can’t find the answers. All we can do is to keep seeking, in an effort to find a certain comfort level.
Untitled is a series that Lee did from 1997-1999. They are beautiful scrolls of nature: a tree trunk lying on its side on a beach, the water and the dock above it, the island in the middle of the water. They are the ultimate in craftsmanship: the mulberry paper soaks the ink in and resembles Chinese ink painting; the emulsion that coats the paper softens the tones, like 19th-century photographs; the brush strokes that are applied by hand render every print unique and call to mind abstract painting. Lee abstracts the pictures by repeating each image three times, making us unclear as to what we’re looking at. What we are clear about is the power they have over us: they are quiet but disconcerting; they are delicate but weighty. As in all of Lee’s work, the existence of the thing - whether on its own, reflected in itself, floating in the universe, or abstracted - is presented to us for deeper thought and reflection, and always, exquisitely.
By Jill Quasha