Jeewi Lee: Traces of Journeys

7 Jun 2024 – 13 Jul 2024

Regular hours

12:00 – 18:00
12:00 – 18:00
12:00 – 18:00
12:00 – 18:00
12:00 – 18:00

Free admission

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signs and symbols is pleased to present Traces of Journeys, the first U.S. solo exhibition by artist Jeewi Lee. The exhibition features a series of sand paintings and a site-specific sculptural installation of 100 galvanized cuttlefish bones.


signs and symbols is pleased to present Traces of Journeys, the first U.S. solo exhibition by artist Jeewi Lee. The exhibition features a series of sand paintings and a site-specific sculptural installation of 100 galvanized cuttlefish bones.

Jeewi Lee, who divides her time between Germany, Korea, and Senegal, draws from her personal narrative of frequent relocations and the quest for belonging. Working in New York, a city emblematic of cultural crossroads, deepens her engagement with these themes, reflecting the city's own rich history as a mosaic of immigrant lives. Here, amidst the bustling streets and diverse communities, she pondered the universal experiences of displacement, adaptation, and belonging. The exhibition features two poignant bodies of work developed from Lee's fascination with materials that carry the traces of movement and survival.

In Field of Fragments, her ongoing painting series, Lee utilizes sand, a humble yet crucial material in our everyday lives, transcending borders, and encapsulating millennia of history in each grain. Working with sand as a medium, Lee harnesses the ephemeral nature of this granular substance to create captivating paintings, embracing its impermanence by transforming grains of sand into intricate abstractions. Sand is deceptively simple yet indispensable in its versatility and utility. After water, sand stands as one of our most vital natural resources. Its applications span across various industries, playing a critical role in the production of glass, silicone, phone chips, food processing, and concrete. With its timeless essence and borderless nature, sand silently bears witness to the passage of time and the fluidity of geography. For Lee, sand exists as a universal symbol of unity, indifferent to the divisions that define our world. During her residency at the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation in Connecticut in 2023, Lee continued her series of sand paintings, gathering local sand and integrating it into her abstract compositions. Lee's artwork delves into the expressive marks and impressions of everyday life, collecting and conserving "traces" as both visual elements and documented records of lived social and historical occurrences. Sand serves as a fitting embodiment of this concept of the trace, with each grain bearing witness to history and capturing imprints of activity on its surface as it travels across the globe before settling in its current location.

In Encounter (Future Past Tense), Lee focuses on cuttlefish bones she collected over the course of three years. These bones, vulnerable yet strong, have traveled tumultuous seas to reach shores afar, mirroring the life journey of many residents here in the city. The exhibition presents these relics, each engraved with the marks of their voyage, and now preserved and encapsulated through the process of galvanization. The cuttlefish bones hold a profound connection to Lee’s own biography; her childhood was marked by frequent moves, shifting environments every couple of years. Recollections of discovering them as a child in Korea resurfaced when encountering these bones once more in Senegal, suggesting that they, too, had crossed the seas to find her. Through the process of galvanization, these bones are transformed, gaining a protective armor of metal, with a newfound strength and resilience. By coating these delicate remnants, she not only safeguards them against decay but also embeds within them the histories and narratives they carry. Each industrialized artifact is now a physical repository of memories, a tangible connection to the past as they explore themes of preservation, memory, and the continuous dialogue between the past and present, challenging us to consider how our understanding of identity and heritage is formed.

Lee notes, "I look at these elements and their embodied memories, traces of their journey and ask myself who is given what rights to be in motion, to travel, and to arrive at new shores. Both sand and cuttlefish bones are integral to my work, revealing the invisible yet profound narratives of migration and the natural defiance of borders—the sea does not stop the cuttlefish for visas, nor does the sand acknowledge the lines we draw on maps."

Lee's fascination lies in the myriad imprints we leave behind—the personal impressions and unique signatures that permeate the spaces we occupy. Her interest in traveling objects such as sand and fishbones goes deeper than its aesthetic allure; it is profoundly tied to her own biography. Just as sand is swept from place to place, Lee too has traversed boundaries and cultures, her identity shaped by a constellation of experiences. In her paintings, sand becomes a metaphor for an archive—each grain charged with information representing a place, a location, a memory, a fragment of the past. These objects become symbols of one’s journey, imbued with the experiences of each new destination. Lee’s artistic practice acknowledges the profound truth that every interaction, no matter how fleeting, leaves its mark; and only by understanding the past can the future be written.

jeewi lee is a South Korean, Berlin-based artist whose multidisciplinary practice—spanning site-specific installations and interventions, video and image series—examines memory, time, and decay. Important for her work are the performative marks and imprints of the everyday, collecting and preserving “the trace” as a pictorial element and recorded archive of lived social and historical events. She questions the sphere of visual perception through drawing attention to the unnoticed, the disregarded and the seemingly non-existent. While traces appear in abstract and minimal form, they contain indexicality and narrative elements; trace both physically and conceptually exists as residues of past lives, recalling the passage of time—a visual allegory for the lived experiences of history, place, memory, and the body.

Lee studied painting at University of the Arts in Berlin and at Hunter College University in New York. She graduated in 2014 as a master student in Fine Arts at the University of the Arts Berlin and held her MFA in 2018 in the postgraduate study Art in Context. She has received various grants and artist residencies, including the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, Villa Romana Florence, and various grants from the Kunstfond Foundation. Recent solo and group exhibitions include Kunstverein in Hamburg, DAZ German architecture center, Hamburger Bahnhof Museum der Gegenwart, Gropius Bau, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Kunsthaus Vienna and Institute for Contemporary Art Virginia. Last year, her first monograph INDEX was published by Hatje Cantz Verlag.

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Jeewi Lee


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