With a reputation for being a pseudo-(mad)scientist, artist Hyungkoo Lee experiments with body mutilation—though he mercifully spares his subjects the scalpel, stitches and scars. Analyzing our modern conception of beauty and exaggerating it to the extreme, Lee’s series The Objectuals emphasizes some of today’s most coveted features: large eyes, full lips, and a high pointed nose. Looking at these photographs, it’s clear that Lee’s work is responding to the growing prevalence of society’s favorite form of body modification: plastic surgery. As unsettling and disturbing as these images are, they seem to echo the permanently frozen, impossible faces we see splattered in the pages of every magazine and even our own city streets.
From plastic helmets to concave and convex lenses, the artist uses transparent mediums to portray magnified and minimized variations of the human body. He remembers his initial inspiration when living and studying in the United States, confronting the anatomical, and consequentially psychological, complex of the “smaller, less endowed Asian man.” Noticing his hand to be much smaller than that of a Caucasian man of similar height sitting nearby, Lee created his first modification device. Literally called the Device That Makes My Hand Bigger, he made it with a plastic bottle of Coke and a whiskey glass. Filling this apparatus with water, he observed the virtual enlargement of his forearm and the optical illusion of his three-fingered hand. From there, other body altering devices were born.
A Device (Gauntlet 1) that Makes My Hand Bigger 1999
Helmet 1 (Self portrait) 2000
Altering Features with RH5 2003
Altering Features with BH2 2003
As a collected installation, The Objectual series goes by the title of LAB and has traveled in various formations from the US to Tokyo to Seoul. Objectifying the irrationality as much as the rationality of deforming the body, Lee concurrently questions cultural understandings of what is real, what is beautiful, and what is authentic.