“The Definition Of Art Is Beyond One’s Realm Of Control” – In Conversation with Daniel Schine Lee and Lee Hyun-joon, Artists from South Korea

The evolution of art throughout history has always been exciting. With various movements, including Impressionism, Fauvism and Expressionism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and now pausing on Postmodernism and Deconstructivism, art grew into a powerful tool in defining the society we live in. With the current spectrum of art being hugely diverse, artists’ approach to their own work has become even more liberated and bold. South Korea has been at the forefront of contemporary art, yet still, with Nam June Paik (1932-2006) as one of the most cutting-edge artists of the 21st century. Without a doubt the new generation of Korean artists are flourishing and have been impressing with their work in recent years, with work that grabs the interests of many art goers both domestically and overseas.

Daniel Schine Lee and Lee Hyun-joon are two of those artists, they are also unapologetic and inventive. Graduates from the prestigious Royal College of Art and Chelsea College of Arts in London , Daniel and Hyun-joon already have various artistic projects under their belt, including displays in the United Kingdom. This year, they decided to collaborate on an installation called detox. that focused on the idea behind detoxing and “the double-sidedness of the detox culture.” The exhibition was split into three rooms: a showroom of detox, a lab that allowed the visitors to experience raw materials and an exercise space, where one could let steam off and participate in various events during the display.

As many people know, ‘detox’ word has become a fad word, a fashionable word, and a myth. Can a culture of detox be truly erased? Can a person detox itself from a detox? A few days ago we had the privilege to interview Daniel and Hyun-joon, during which we spoke about their recent exhibition, what art means to them and their future projects.

detox 21

Photo © Daniel Schine Lee & Lee Hyun-joon 

Before discussing the scope of your artwork, was art and being an artist a path that always called out to you? 

Daniel Schine Lee: Hmm, I would say those who inspired me were inventors and explorers in the beginning. But it was only around the junior high school year that I began working on a portfolio to enrol at an art school. This was mainly due to a friend who decided to study architecture while we were getting in trouble in school together. His decision surprised me, and I was nervous about my future at the time too. I began reflecting my life, and I used to design houses, cars, and sneakers since 11 in my notebooks and I dreamed to become someone like Thomas Edison, so I thought art schools will help achieve my creative ambitions. From that moment, I had a dream and life became ever more exciting since then. 

Hyun-joon: I think so. Since my childhood, I have always been involved in something relevant to my practice. I feel grateful to be able to sustain as an artist and produce work that best represents myself.

How do you create your art, and what is the main subject of your work? How long does it usually take to create an art project? 

Daniel Schine Lee: In terms of contemporary art discourse, I would read about participatory art and performance, and also about the role of the gallery — an offline space — in the post-internet era. This interactive idea relates to my interest in ‘remix.’ Because, since legends like Lee “Scratch” Perry brought dub music, and started toasting (rapping), it made music transform infinitely. Anyone could purchase a record, dub it (remix it), and toast it. Yes, this was before hip-hop, house, and techno which is the foundation of all music that is out there now. Thus, I began questioning how I can provide a platform for a work of art or an exhibition that can allow participation and some form of contribution that shifts the original work. Therefore, the term that I use to describe my work would be ‘fractional compositions’ where visual, textual and audio forms are isolated for fragmented sensory experiences. 

About, how I create my work… I begin with my current areas of interest and followed by research. Sometimes it could be an idea that has been circulating around my head for years. In other cases, it would be something that I came across recently. But research is really everything. If it is not thought enough, I would not publish it. 

Hyun-joon: The challenge for me is to balance my perspective — I am quite cautious to my approach yet be bold at times. Those who encounter my work does not need to take my messages as the way it has been presented, but I aim to give room for the viewers to create their own understandings, yet in an enjoyable fashion. 

Personally, it seems difficult to discuss my subject of interest at this moment as I have been working on several projects and they carry different themes. I’m always cautious about questions regarding my current project, as I do not prefer to give any clues before the next show. However, what is clear is that it will discuss about the people living in the modern society. 


Photo © Daniel Schine Lee & Lee Hyun-joon 

Looking at your art as a whole, which is more important to you: the subject of your art or the way it is executed? 

Daniel Schine Lee: This is a tough one. Because in theory, it may be brilliant, but as in practice, it may not fully materialise. Sometimes I believe the concept behind is the key, but oftentimes I find myself or other works less engaging in reality. So my answer would be everything has its own importance. But if it is significantly weak on either point, then it is worth developing. 

Hyun-joon: Both to me are as important and it would be impossible to say which has less importance. Although, the process would start with developing the concept from the subject of the work. Followed by the research in-depth and gradually develop to take forms suitable for the exhibition and its site.

When you create your art projects, is there a deliberate message present from the very beginning? 

Daniel Schine Lee: Sometimes yes, and in other times it is very complex or ambiguous. Most works tend to trigger viewers to think and engage. As for the current exhibition ‘detox.’, the theme is out there but each work discusses different ideas surrounding detox. Some parts of the exhibition act to promote and to sell detox products like nutrition/beauty companies do. Others can have more hidden messages which tend to fit into the d-i-y detox theme. 

Hyun-joon: As I have stated above, I initially create from my perspective. Yet, I prefer to let the work develop through the process and from feedback too. It is intriguing to see how the work shifts through development. I enjoy this process and hopefully, the viewers can be entertained.

Looking at your past and present projects, when you complete your work, do you remain attached to it or is there a catharsis with detachment present at the end of the project? 

Daniel Schine Lee: No, I always see my next work as an evolution from the previous. Certain themes carry on and others change. If it changes, it means that I no longer follow the same principles. If it were to continue, then I believe I can speak from another point of view. Also, Hyun-joon and I decided we will be doing more projects under the name of Detox. in 2020, and so on! 

Hyun-joon: I believe it would be easier to think that a project could not be completed. However, the ending of an exhibition brings forth the inconvenience and the achievement with a hollowness that strikes like a catharsis.


Photo © Daniel Schine Lee & Lee Hyun-joon 

To what extent do you think your surroundings shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way? 

Daniel Schine Lee: First, I would always credit my mum and my aunt as providing me the foundation to my art world. They had very cool objects at home and had designer friends whom they took me to their studios. I was just a curious kid, born in a period without mobile phones and internet (well, this kind of stuff were for business people not for average households in the 90s) so all I did was really interact with my surroundings — from art to nature. 

Also, I am from a period where if we wanted to listen to music, then first you go to a friend’s flat whose got an older sibling with great music library, dig through their CDs, and remember the feel of the sounds and the cover art, then try to find it in the record store. Now, you can just take a photo, and purchase instantly online simply from your phone. So, I began practising ‘fractional compositions’ since I was born to this day. I am glad that I am not one of those generations that learned sex through the internet [laughs]. 

Hyun-joon: Oftentimes, my surroundings shape my work. I look at things from an objective perspective and it is a positive sign so it feels like a medium to my practice. Sometimes my surroundings sculpt the way I look at certain subjects in a way that I would not have arrived — this feels amazing.

A question for Daniel – You were born in the US, studied in the UK (London), and now you spend most of your time in South Korea. Art is perceived differently in each of these countries, what are your main challenges as an artist? 

Daniel Schine Lee: Well, everywhere has its own ups and downsides. I generally enjoy challenges. Say for instance, in terms of the public’s interest and exposure to art, the UK is a great place to start from. With many viewers, I can get straight down to the business before discussing all the references. But the scene there also lacks such interest and information on the Eastern hemisphere and its recent history, so I try to find a different language that possibly communicates to the viewers. This detour leads me to develop a new language, rather than teaching my language — after all, artists have to undermine the fact that the viewers will not spend hours looking through their works. What’s fantastic about working in Seoul is that the city provides quick and efficient manufacturing and courier services. I can execute new ideas two, three days before the opening and have it ready for the show. But then, when it comes to resources available for research, it is not as fascinating as places like London and New York. So wherever I travel, whomever I meet, I try to collect as much information as possible.

detox 19

Photo © Daniel Schine Lee & Lee Hyun-joon 

The definition of art is open, subjective, and debatable. There is no agreement among historians and artists, which is why we are left with so many definitions of art. The concept itself has changed over centuries; how would you define art yourself? What does art mean to you? 

Daniel Schine Lee: For me, art suggests open discourse. Just like nature, the definition of art is beyond one’s realm of control. So as an artist, my practice is about remixing and my work being remixed too. Someone else might influence values that I have not thought of into my work. I have already seen it happening and I would like to see more of it. I am highly not interested in artists who speak mainly of their personal emotions described with poetic words. I enjoy experiencing works that question ways of viewing instead. 

Hyun-joon: The title ‘contemporary artist’ has never appealed much to me. Why? I believe the world is moving too fast for us to be entitled in such a fashion. Historically speaking, art had many different interpretations and significance. Therefore, it would be even more problematic to define art.

You recently joined forces for a brilliant project called detox. You called it “an experiment that focuses on the idea behind detoxing”. As you know ‘detox’ has become a fad word lately; how did you come up with the idea for Detox and what was behind the project itself, did you participate in the experiment yourselves? 

detox. : We were discussing our common interests and prepared for a collaboration on a project examining the keywords from the 20s and the 30s. Our focus was to find a subject that can be accommodating yet harmful v.s. nonessential but beneficial. 

The consumption culture of detox differs from that of its original (dictionary) means and we wanted to challenge this. We wanted to discuss the side effects of anything that sounds too sweet to be true in general.

What are some of the detox. project most important aspects? 

detox. : The paradox of detoxing our body and our consumer minds that govern our judgements in supermarkets is what Detox project is about. Through this exhibition, we aimed to critique our irrational behaviours of ours, which simply lack any thorough research into subjects that sounds too flattering. 

The businesses are not interested in the other side of the story but to propagate the brighter side of detoxing. There are side effects to everything and we lack understanding and any questioning into fields that have positive outlining. 

‘Agoy’ is a video installation created as a part of our recent show, ’detox.’ It’s an audio-visual installation with 2 channel video with running time of 15:20.  The flat screen television leans vertically (90 degrees to normal view) to the wall, yoga mats are in pattern on the floor, and incense sticks add scents to the work. 

The work is a part of a satire on detox — which has become a fad word. Here, we created a parody of a yoga video where how contemporary approach for detoxing is less concerned about the spiritual side of yoga. Unlike in ancient India, where yoga began as a meditational purpose (spiritual approach), in places like Seoul, London, and New York, yoga is a middle class sports (beauty and fitness) that also meditates but not for religious purposes. The philosophy behind is utterly disparate.


Photo © Daniel Schine Lee & Lee Hyun-joon 

Based on a survey and people who visited the detox. installation, how – in your opinion – did people grasp the meaning of detox

detox. : We searched for a subject that the public can relate to despite their areas of interest or political opinion. Speaking to the viewers in the exhibition, we realised that people very much relate to the hypocrisy of detox culture. We wanted to be honest, fun, and interactive throughout! 

Why was it important to tackle the subject of detox? Do you think you could present this experiment outside of South Korea? 

detox. : Of course, this is not a subject that is limited to the interest of the South Korean society. Rather it is a reflection of the contemporary/post-internet period. We have an overflow of products, contents, and encouragements of detox products which seems rather harmful from another perspective. Also, detox can mimic other social fads.

What’s next for you when it comes to the arts? Any new project in the pipeline? 

detox. :  We will be carrying on with the project detox. in the following year. Yet, there is also an alternative project titled toxic. that is about to debut next year. The definition may be reversed, but the concept and  the logic behind are the same. It will be speaking about technological development that seems to benefit human civilisation which possibly flops and damage our condition and mind. 

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Photos © Daniel Schine Lee & Lee Hyun-joon

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Roxy Simons








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