This video artist is capturing the energy of Seoul
Samuel Kiehoon Lee is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence
When Samuel Kiehoon Lee first visited South Korea, something clicked. "When I got here 10 years ago, I just found it very inspiring," the filmmaker tells CBC Arts. "I sort of connected with it artistically," he explains. "What is it about Seoul? The people, the walking culture — I don't know. Sometimes you have to be where the inspiration is, and that's where I'm at right now."
Lee splits his time between Seoul and Toronto, where he graduated from the Canadian Film Centre's Director's Lab in 2011. But it's the former city that's the subject, and the inspiration, of the films you'll see Sunday on the latest episode of Exhibitionists. In addition to documentaries and dramas, including a feature in-progress called Gyopo, Lee is a prolific maker of experimental art videos like these:
Lee posted the films online last year, when he began producing a series that captures the energy of his adopted city. "I just wanted to document Korean life, or people," he explains. "There's just so many people in Seoul," roughly 10 million at last count, "and they're always doing something. It's a walking culture."
In videos like this one, Negative Strobe, each person who passes Lee's camera is captured in silhouette, their negative shadow serving as a window to the greater scene around them.
A similar effect appears in his other films likeNegative Accumulation and Negative Reversal — which Lee creates by layering the footage in Final Cut Pro, producing what he describes as a sort of visual "deconstructive interference."
"I've always loved the Walking Woman image," says Lee, revealing that there's a hint of CanCon mixed into the project. (Michael Snow's famous series featured a singular silhouette reproduced in photos and sculpture and paintings.) But as Lee explains, his videos are very much about Seoul. "I could have done these in Toronto," he says, "or I guess I could have picked Paris or Barcelona or Zimbabwe. But I'm here. I'm inspired by the energy here at the moment."
Life in the city is also the subject of his upcoming feature, Gyopo — the title being the word for Korean diaspora. "There's plenty of Gyopos living in Korea right now," Lee laughs, "and I guess I'm one of them."
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The film, which he describes as a hybrid of autobiography, documentary and drama, follows 24-hours in the life of "third culture kids" like him, people who grew up in Toronto or Texas who've moved "'home' in quotes" to the birthplace of their parents or grandparents.
"I've always envied writers. You just need a pencil. Or a computer. Even if you're a musician you can just sit there and turn something out on your guitar. Filmmaking is a lot harder. You have so many more things you need to pull together," says Lee. That's partly why he's driven to make art videos like the ones from his Walking series.
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"With these art videos I can keep it down to this minimal thing where it's just me and my camera and my editing system," he says. Outside of Vimeo — and, come Sunday, Exhibitionists — they've never been shown. There's something satisfying about being able to accomplish something with just the tools at hand — and that's why Lee is compelled to make them.
"Making an art video, for me, is part of the process," he says. "I just want to be making stuff."