首先，立體主義於1908年出現在法國，雖然開始於繪畫領域，但作為一種重要的藝術思維，對20世紀的雕塑及建築產生了廣泛的影響。立體派畫家以畢加索為代表，雕塑家有奧西普·扎德金（Ossip Zadkine）、亨利·勞倫斯（Henri Laurens）、阿基彭科（Archipenko）等，畢加索的雕塑也帶有鮮明的立體派特徵。立體主義的主要宗旨，在於將物體形象進行破壞和分解，然後再加以重新組合，以此產生不依賴肉眼的固定視點看待事物的效果，突破透視法的限制，表達對象物更為完整的形象。筆者認為，立體主義在思維方法方面對李光裕的影響深遠。李光裕曾回憶道：
「當我在西班牙學習時完成〈牧笛〉（1981），Francisco Toledo Sanchez教授竟然將作品的一部分折斷、扭彎，產生了不同的效果，對我的啟發極大：鋸掉折斷以後重新尋找新的可能；嚴格、準確的形刪除之後，破壞、組裝再重建，使得系列的作品是延續性的發展」。
另一方面，李光裕也受到二戰後再度興起的表現主義風格的吸引。如存在主義雕塑大師賈科梅蒂（Alberto Giacometti）、西班牙雕塑家蘇比拉克（Josep Maria Subirachs）等，他們分別在1940至50年代摒棄了超現實主義色彩或寧靜優美的「地中海風格」，改以拉長、扭動的軀體表達戰後人的精神創傷。李光裕對表現性手法的嘗試，以一件早期作品〈刮痕〉（1981）為例。在這件作品中，羊的周身佈滿大小深淺不一的劃擦與切割的痕跡，它的溫順姿態與藝術家在創作中留下的激烈的情感印記形成對比。筆者認為，李光裕認同並吸收了表現主義的精神內涵，可以說，他的作品一直在探討某種形式或方法，將藝術家的生存感受，以及更深層對人的存在本質層面的體驗，寄託於表現對象之上。
另一方面，李光裕多次嘗試將圓雕削減成扁形的「面」，並在其上用線條進行勾勒，例如〈抽煙的人〉(The Smoker)（1999）、〈梳辮女子〉(The Woman with the Plait)（1999）這兩件作品，面部的凹凸被大幅削減，取而代之以近似浮雕的陰線勾畫出五官。 1998年的兩件作品〈扁形男子〉、〈扁形女子〉，徑直以「扁形」命名，標示出其對「平面」的研究意圖。扁形「平面」反映出藝術家受到早期西方現代藝術影響，進一步對雕塑的概念，及雕塑在空間中的構成形式進行探索。
李光裕這個時期的作品，展現了大量與東方文化相關的主題，特別是佛教或禪宗，以及道教。例如「手系列」作品，〈拈花〉(Holding Out a Flower)（1999）、〈五識〉（2007）等不僅在命名上與佛教思想相關，而且在形式上借用了佛教的「手印」姿態。近期代表作品如〈千里眼〉(Clairvoyance)（2016）、〈順風耳〉(Clairaudient)（2016）、則引用了道教的神話形象。那麼，如何理解李光裕對東方文化的借鑒與藝術轉化？李光裕自1984年左右開始接觸藏傳佛教，後來跟從一位在台灣的修行者學習。他認為「佛教的學習，影響我看待事物的方式，跟藝術有異曲同工之妙，皆是有關於人類問題的探討，其理相通。修法的過程，一方面解決自己面對人生的問題，一方面也提供藝術的啟發」。筆者認為，我們不能簡單地將他的這類作品理解為單純借用佛教主題的形象或佛教造型的形式美，而是從他修習藏傳佛教與禪宗思想，及至更廣泛的東方文化中，了解他如何深化對「空」的理解，以及發現「空」的美學表達形式的可能。
探討「空」的語言形式的萌芽，需要再次回到李光裕的早期作品。上文提到，有些早期作品的表面富於表現性肌理效果，如在〈藏寶〉(Hiding the Treasure)（1995）中，作品局部的表面極不光滑，故意留下藝術家捏塑、劃擦、刻畫的痕跡，且人物缺失了一半頭和腿，使作品在一種不完美中達到更加完美。這種破壞有時體現為表面的裂痕，如〈手非手〉(A Hand it Seems)（1986）這件作品，並有進一步裂開、殘缺，向孔洞發展的趨勢，如〈臨風〉（1991）在手掌右側出現了一處殘缺。這些作品體現出李光裕對「破壞成新局」的初步實踐，具體來說，在破裂、殘缺的形式中達成了一種造型的圓滿，其結果是預告了「鏤空」形式的出現，因此可視為「空」的語言的孕育階段。他的這種藝術手法，帶有個人的審美特質和當代雕塑風格。
在這個階段，李光裕繼續他之前的試驗，與此同時佛教題材為他提供了創作素材，以及作為形式研究的對象，如佛頭、手等。在李光裕的工作室中也收集了很多佛教造像。在他與佛教題材有關的作品中，值得注意的是，創作於1990年的〈妙有〉，這件作品形式很像佛教的石塔，所不同的是本該供奉佛像的洞口被藝術家轉化成了佛像本身內部的「孔洞」，佛像因此而變為內外通透的空間存在，這個「孔洞」無疑具有啟發意義，雖然〈妙有〉(Transcendental Existence)更近似佛像而非具有個人風格的作品，但10年後李光裕再次提煉這一藝術構思，創作了〈妙有Ⅱ〉（2001），對作品的形式語言及「孔洞」進行了更為藝術化的處理，「佛像」的肩膀變得更像一座山，而「孔洞」的形狀更像山中的壁窟，這一次，「孔洞」顯然既有了「空」的形式，又有了「空」的概念意涵。由這一作品，李光裕又延伸出〈空山〉(Empty Mountain)（2006）、〈空山Ⅱ〉（2007），最後在〈空山Ⅲ〉（2008）這件作品，「孔洞」已完全轉化為「鏤空」的形式語言。
從1999年開始，李光裕似乎對「孔洞」產生了濃烈的興趣，多次在非佛教題材及造型嘗試「孔洞」的效果，例如〈壺形雞〉（1999）將一隻公雞的雞冠和尾巴相連，形成一個大洞。 〈縮腹女人〉（Contracted Belly Woman）（1999）則是他在人體上對「孔洞」的嘗試。這件作品造型非常簡約、精煉，藝術家省略了胳膊和小腿，在上半身的正中心打開一個洞，面部以線條勾勒，是李光裕在風格轉折期的一件代表作。進入2000年之後，李光裕的鏤空手法日益趨向成熟，例如〈白雲〉(The Clouds)（2007）、〈荷畔〉(By the Lotus Pond)（2007）等作品皆以鏤空為突出特徵。再以〈璧〉（1998）為例，這件作品掌心的「孔洞」仍以壁龕的形式出現，壁龕中有兩尊佛像造型，與〈雲山行旅〉(Wandering in the Misty Mountains)（2013）這件延伸作品對比，後者「孔洞」已經完全打開形成「鏤空」，佛像消失，變成片雲飄蕩在空中，意境更加深遠。不可忽視的是，〈雲山行旅〉的「鏤空」形式，有別於亨利·摩爾式幾何形的「孔洞」。李光裕的「鏤空」更接近非幾何、不規則的有機形，這種帶有個人特色的「空」的語言，所表達的意境與幾何式的「孔洞」大相徑庭，這意味著李光裕從一般性的「鏤空」手法開始走向了更具特定意涵的「東方空境」的表達。
李光裕的近期（2013-2016）作品呈現出新的結構主義傾向，在雕塑手法上，從使用石膏、黏土塑型，變成用鐵片焊接、塑料片彎折、打孔等不拘一格的手法來實現；在形式特點上，產生了片狀結構、團塊結構與鏤空的融合。上文已提到李光裕在早期對扁平面的試驗，創作於2008年的〈亥母〉這件作品，展示出扁平片狀與鼓凸的團塊結構相結合的造型手法。近期的作品不僅將片狀造型手法推向極致，而且融入成熟的鏤空手法，我們在一件作品中往往可以觀察到多種藝術手法融為一體，例如〈鼓舞〉(Drum Dancer)（2013）、〈太極〉(Taichi)（2013）、〈伏心〉(Subduing)（2014）等作品，形成李光裕個人強烈的藝術風格和視覺語言。如果說李光裕此前的作品主要以寫實風格的形象為主，在這個階段，寫實的造型規則也被打破，融入更多抽象因素和現代文明的特徵，例如〈空行〉(Empty Procession)（2014）這件作品使用的鐵絲、鐵片等工業元素。在最新作品〈鬥牛〉（2016）系列中，李光裕似乎找到了一種在形式語言上幾近完善的實踐，憤怒的「牛」幾乎僅存骨架，沒有任何多餘的體積，甚至在骨架上亦有鏤空，增強作品的穿透性。筆者認為，在這個階段，李光裕已超越了單純的「鏤空」，而是在雕塑的本質層面，改變處理雕塑空間的方式。
回顧西方現代雕塑藝術史，可以追溯到19世紀末法國雕塑大師羅丹，到後來的超現實主義、立體主義等各種流派。 20世紀初期，有些藝術家如讓·阿爾普（Jean Arp）、阿基彭科（Archipenko)等開始在作品上開孔、打洞。這一富有深意的藝術手法，大大推進了雕塑的發展，打開了雕塑的可能性。這個手法的重要性體現在雕塑和空間的關係上。一般而言，雕塑是一個真實存在於空間的三維物體，它創造了自己的空間，另一方面，它又被觀者存在的空間所包圍。雕塑自己的空間和觀者的空間是並存且互不穿透的，當雕塑家把作品打開了「孔洞」時，他們就使兩者的空間互通了，換言之，觀者存在的物理空間穿透了雕塑的物理空間。
20世紀60年代，以戴維·史密斯（David Smith）、理查德·塞拉（Richard Serra）等為代表的極少主義藝術家延續了對虛空和實體之間關係的探討。例如，史密斯認為他的雕塑是連續的空間組成部分，在這個空間中，虛空與實體應當同等對待。在極少主義作品中所指的「虛空」，不再是孔洞，而是在展覽空間中，重複的作品單元之間的部分。隨著極少主義藝術家日益模糊了雕塑與裝置藝術之間的界限，轉而強調作品與空間的場域關係，以及作品的觀念性，西方現代雕塑由此發生了重要的轉向。
The Open Void—On the Formal Language, Artistic Concept, and Contemporary Value of LEE Kuang-Yu’s Sculpture
Text / Dr. YANG Shin-Yi (Curator and PhD in Art History, Cornell University)
Being a representative sculptor among the second-generation sculptors in Taiwanese art history, Lee Kuang-Yu achieved fame in the Taiwanese art circle at an early stage. His artistic achievement was widely recognized by the academic circle in the 1990s, and his works were frequently seen in major exhibitions, such as the Asian International Art Exhibition and Singapore International Sculpture Exhibition. However, the general public’s understanding of his art has been stereotyped and limited to his early works. One of the reasons is due to Lee’s long creative career. If one does not examine his work in a long period of time, it is easy to overlook the gradual evolution of his work. Moreover, Lee’s work has been simplistically categorized by the Taiwanese art circle as classic sculpture of the “academic school,” one-sidedly emphasizing his solid academic skills without looking into other facets of his work.
In this essay, to address the key subject of the “void,” which Lee has persistently explored, I juxtapose and study his sculptural creations from 1980 to the recent time (2013 to 2016). Through analyzing Lee’s four stages of developing the concept of the “void,” I have discovered that the “void” conveys various meanings and functions differently in Lee’s work. More importantly, it has gradually evolved into a core concept in his work and encompassed different levels, ranging from the level of plastic, formal beauty, to the level of sculptural, spatial concept, to its artistic implication, which denotes the level of human existence. His “void” not only conveys aesthetic and philosophical meanings, but also touches upon the social implications of art. To my surprise, this clue that leads to the “re-discovery” of Lee has not been widely discussed.
After several visits to Lee’s sculpture garden and studio in the mountains of Xizhi in Taiwan, I have become more certain that, during half a lifetime of artistic creation and continuous efforts, Lee has never stopped refining and developing his artistic ideas. His long artistic career, rich creativity, and diversified work are tremendously rare. What is more precious is that his works all stem from the same system, which is founded on its historic connection to the twentieth-century Western sculptural art and seeks innovation and changes of the sculptural language. Moreover, it has incorporated the Oriental thinking and culture as well as its aesthetics, forming a highly recognizable, distinctive style and concept. In this essay, I hope to objectively reveal the major features and core meanings of Lee’s work and demonstrate his artistic concept and value to provide an example for the creation and study of contemporary sculpture.
1. The Language of the “Void” and the Realistic Period
Lee Kuang-Yu was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in 1954. After he graduated from the Sculpture Department of National Taiwan Academy of Arts (now National Taiwan University of Arts, NTUA), he continued his study in Spain. After graduating from Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Lee obtained his MFA degree from Universidad Complutense de Madrid. In 1983, he returned to Taiwan and began teaching as a lecturer at Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA).
During Lee’s school days, Taiwanese sculpture had undergone a transformative process of exploring sculptural language and material, and shifted from realistic representation to abstract expressionism. In terms of artistic concept, it had experienced the process of progressing from academic art to modernism. The first generation of Taiwanese sculptors, like its representative, Huang Tu-Shui, mostly studied in Japan. They adopted a realistic approach to portray the native subjects of Taiwan, and created the first group of classic works in the history of Taiwanese sculpture. In the 1950s, the Western waves of modernist art influenced the modernist movement of Taiwanese sculpture. In the 1960s, NTAA founded its Sculpture Department. The education provided by NTAA’s College of Arts became the main force of nurturing future sculptors and spreading modern art concepts. In the 1980s, artists of Lee’s generation, including Lee himself, had mostly finished their studies and returned to teach in Taiwan one after another, forming the backbone of the academic education in Taiwanese art colleges. These artists were exposed to all kinds of modern sculptural concepts, and converted their learning into the undying fire of the “Taiwanese modernist school.”
Among these artists, Lee was definitely a benchmark figure of outstanding achievements. When he was still in Spain, Lee had been known for his excellent realistic skills, which won him a scholarship that Spain’s Ministry of Culture awarded to five art colleges in the country. He had also participated in the Spain Fall Salón. His talents could be detected in his relief work, Night (1980). However, Lee was not content with realism; instead, he had actively absorbed the essence of Western modernism. Regarding this, in my opinion, there were two factors that influenced the later development of Lee’s personal style. The first was Cubism, and the second Expressionism. Furthermore, Lee had also studied the simple, abstract style of Western sculptors, such as Henry Moore.
To begin with, Cubism appeared in France in 1908. Although it started with painting, this important artistic thinking had extensive influence on the twentieth-century sculpture and architecture. While Picasso represented Cubist painting, Ossip Zadkine, Henri Laurens, and Archipenko were representative Cubist sculptors. Even Picasso’s sculpture carried overt Cubist characteristics. The principle of Cubism was to deconstruct and dissect the image of an object, and then reconstructed it to achieve the result of not relying on the fixed viewpoint of the physical eyes when looking at things. It shattered the limitation of the perspective and portrayed a more complete image of the subject. I think the thinking of Cubism has had profound influence on Lee. The artist once said,
“When I was studying in Spain, I created a work, called Reed Pipe (1981). However, Professor Francisco Toledo Sanchez broke and bent part of the work, which produced a different effect. It was extremely inspiring for me to break and saw a part off to search for new possibilities. With the deletion, the rigid and precise form could be deconstructed, assembled, and reconstructed, which allowed a series of works to be developed in a continuous manner.”
In this passage, the terms “deconstruct,” “assemble,” and “reconstruct” all reminded people of the Cubist manifesto. Later, in Lee’s notes, he tried to use his own words to sum up his artistic realization. For example, he gave the process of “deconstruction” the name of “deconstruction as innovation,” and described the spontaneous “reconstruction” of dissembled wastes and fragments in the following words, “inspiration could be found everywhere without searching outward.” He also mentioned an anecdote.
“One of my friends kindly washed a cup for me but accidentally broke it. She was very upset because the cup was quite expensive. I picked up the fragments and placed them on my desk to admire. Later, I combined these fragments into a cup that could be seen through; it was lively and special. Many of my works did not possess a sense of liveliness after I completed them. So, I smashed them on the ground or sawed them into pieces to reconstruct them. The liveliness of the reconstructed forms exceeded my imagination and surpassed my habitual thinking.”
This showed that the mode of thinking imbued with Cubist characteristics has been incorporated into Lee’s artistic creation and became part of his artistic system.
On the other hand, Lee was also attracted to the style of Expressionism, which regained popularity after WWII. Existential sculpture master, Alberto Giacometti, and Spanish sculptor, Josep Maria Subirachs, respectively abandoned Surrealism or the tranquil, elegant “Mediterranean style,” and adopted the elongated, twisted human body to express people’s traumatized psyche in the post-war era. One of Lee’s early work, Scratch (1981), exemplified his attempt in adopting the Expressionistic approach. The sculpture of a goat bore scrape and scratch marks of different depth. Its docile posture contrasted to the intense, emotional traces left by the artist. In my opinion, Lee had identified with and absorbed the core spirit of Expressionism. In other words, his work had been exploring a certain form or method that allowed him to express his feelings of life as well as the profound experience of human existence through the subject he portrayed.
Generally speaking, during this period (from the 1980s to the 1990s), although Lee mainly created realistic works, he was not satisfied with realism and was influenced by Western modernism, such as Cubism, Expressionism, and the abstract style, which contributed to an inner force to break through the confinement of realism. In addition, one could not ignore the fact that, in his practice of realism, Lee had already begun exploring the concept of the “void” and its formal language. On the one hand, Lee was good at creating an aesthetic mood enriched with an Oriental charm. In the Oriental aesthetics, the artistic mood lies in between the real and the void as well as the concrete and the abstract; the “charm” is a subtle, reserved form of beauty that emphasizes on portraying movement through stillness. For instance, By the Wind (1991), Mountain Hike(1995), and Running Water (1997) have adopted subtle twisting in form to reach an implicit balance of the sculpture’s internal tension between movement and stillness. These works have obviously touched upon the Oriental aesthetics of the “void.” However, in terms of form, they have not physically embodied the “void.” Obviously, Lee did not stop at portraying such Oriental tranquil beauty.
On the other hand, Lee had repeatedly reduced sculptures in the round to a flat “surface,” which was carved with lines to depict the subject matter. For example, in The Smoker (1999) and The Woman with Plait (1999), the concave and convex of the faces were largely reduced and replaced with relief-like, intaglio lines to delineate the facial features. Two sculptures created in 1998, The Flatted Man and The Flatted Woman, were named after their flatness, signaling Lee’s study of the flat surface. The flat surface showed that the artist was influenced by the early Western modern art, and had furthered his exploration of sculptural concepts as well as sculptural forms in space.
In summary, Lee was clearly different from other “academic” sculptors. His realistic style was established on his absorption and transformation of the Western modernism, which he combined with artistic techniques and aesthetic ideas that possessed personal characteristics. Judging from the existing works from this period, Lee did not simply imitate a certain style or school, but followed his own artistic path while conducting multi-faceted explorations of the sculptural language and gradually developing his own style. Comparing to his works from other periods, this stage marked the beginning and served as a foundation for his unique language of the “void” that would gradually evolve.
2. Exploration and Formation of the Language of the “Void”
Lee’s works from the end of the 1990s to the recent years were created in a period that spanned the artist’s middle age to the age of sixty. Throughout these years, he had shouldered the mission of teaching and mentoring a new generation of artists at NTUA. It was until his retirement in 2006 that he could finally fully concentrate on artistic creation. For Lee, this important period of his life had contributed to his creation of several important series of works, including his Hand series, Mountain Emptiness series, and other series.
Lee’s works from this period were largely related to the subject of the Oriental culture, especially Buddhism, Zen, and Taoism. In the Hand series, Holding Out a Flower (1999) and The Five Perceptions (2007) not only had titles related to Buddhist thinking, but also adopted the gestures of Buddhist “mudras.” His recent works, such as Clairvoyance (2016) and Clairaudient (2016), had borrowed Taoist mythological images. How could we understand Lee’s referencing to and artistic transformation of the Oriental culture? Since about the year of 1984, Lee had begun learning Tibetan Buddhism, and later, practicing with a practitioner in Taiwan. For Lee, “the learning of Buddhism has influenced how I look at things. Buddhism is similar to art. Both discuss the questions of human being and their principles are interchangeable. The process of practicing the Dharma offers solutions to the problems in life as well as brings artistic inspiration.” In my opinion, we could not simply view this group of works as a mere adoption of the Buddhist images or the formalistic beauty of Buddhist sculpture. Instead, we should look into how Lee has deepened his understanding of the “void” and discovered the possibility of expressing the aesthetics of the “void” from his practicing of Tibetan Buddhism and Zen as well as versing in the Oriental culture.
The “void” forms the fundamental doctrine of Buddhism. The Heart Sutra states that “all things are empty. Nothing is born, nor die; nothing is pure, nor stained; nothing increases, nor decreases.” To interpret it from a secular perspective, Buddhism considers the essence of all things to be constituted of the “void,” which does not refer to nothingness but a “space” that gives birth to things. The “void” contains infinity, and comprehending it enables one to understand the truth of the universe as well as life. From a larger perspective, the concept of the “void” is completely integrated with the Oriental culture. For instance, Taoism has the notion that “being and non-being are complementary to each other,” upholding the idea that all things come from the unification of the two extremes and conceptualizing the “void” from an aesthetic point of view. The crucial Japanese aesthetic notion, “wabi-sabi,” originates from the three sings or proofs of a Hinayana sutra (non-permanence, non-self, and nirvana), and centers on the Zen thinking of emptiness, which states that “all is void.”
My conjecture is that Lee’s awareness of the form of the void in sculpture probably comes earlier than his realization of the concept of the void. I have mentioned earlier that when Lee was in Spain, he had already become familiar with Henry Moore’s sculpture, which was known for the “hole.” However, the “hole” created by the Western sculptors like Moore did not really inspire Lee to create any works. Therefore, they did not have immediate connection with his sculpture. Lee’s unique form of the “void” was developed in a special way by himself, in which his employment of the Oriental culture and Buddhist sculpture had an important effect. I have noticed that Lee’s exploration of the “void” underwent four stages from its germination, to his using of the Buddhist elements, to his personal reflection on the society. The first stage is “destruction as innovation.” The second stage is “the Buddhist subject and the openwork in sculpture.” The third stage is “from the openwork to the silent void in the Oriental culture.” Lastly, the fourth stage is “the open void,” in which he eventually creates his powerfully individual artistic style and means of visual representation, which could be detected in all of his recent works.
(1) Destruction as Innovation
To discuss the beginning of Lee’s language of the “void,” we need to go back to his early works. It is mentioned that some of his early works have been given expressive texture. For example, parts of Hiding the Treasure (1995) had a rather coarse surface. The artist intentionally kept the marks of molding, scraping, and carving. Moreover, the figure lacked half of its head and legs, rendering the work more perfect in its imperfection. Sometimes, the destruction surfaces as crevices on the surface of the work. For instance, A Hand it Seems (1986) carried cracks and imperfections that were suggestive of the appearance of holes. By the Wind (1991) had an opening on the right side of the palm. These works have embodied Lee’s initial attempts in using “destruction as innovation.” More specifically, he achieved a sense of perfection in form through the cracks and openings, which foreshadowed the appearance of the “openwork.” Therefore, this stage could be said to pave the way for the language of the “void.” This artistic technique was invested with personal aesthetic characteristics and established a style of contemporary sculpture.
(2) The Buddhist Subject and the Openwork in Sculpture
In this stage, Lee had continued his previous experiment while incorporating Buddhist subject into his art-making and studying the form of Buddhist sculpture, such as Buddha heads and hands. Lee collected many Buddhist statutes in his studio. Among his works of the Buddhist subject, Transcendental Existence created in 1990 was noticeable. This work reminded us of a Buddhist stupa. The difference lay in the niche, which should have been used to place a Buddha statue. However, it was transformed into a “hole” on the Buddha statute itself. The Buddha statue was, therefore, turned into a sculpture that connected its internal and external spaces, for which the “hole” had a tremendous effect. Although Transcendental Existence was more of a Buddhist statue rather than a work of his personal style, Lee had refined this artistic design ten years later and created Transcendental Existence II (2001), in which he had a more artistic treatment regarding the work’s form and the “hole.” The shoulder of the “Buddha statue” became more like a mountain whereas the shape of the “hole” was more similar to a mountain cave. Obviously, the “hole” in this sculpture embodied the form of the “void” as well as delivered its conceptual meaning. From this work, Lee also went on to create Empty Mountain (2006) and Empty Mountain II (2007); and finally, in Empty Mountain III (2008), the “hole” has completely transformed into a formal language of the “openwork.”
The evolution from Transcendental Existence to Empty Mountain provided us a distinct clue to understand the development of Lee’s work. I believe that Lee has found inspiration in the forms of Buddhist stupas, niches, and caves, and developed the approach of “destruction as innovation” into his openwork technique, integrating the concept of the “void” in the Oriental culture with his understanding of the “void.” To be more specific, he combined the form of the “hole” with the volume and space of sculpture, and created a space of the “void.” This space was not formalistic but possessed perceptual significance for the artist.
(3) From the Openwork to the Silent Void in the Oriental Culture
Since 1999, Lee began to have a strong interest in the “hole,” and repeatedly tried out the effect of holes in non-Buddhist subject and form. For example, in Teapot Rooster (1999), he connected a rooster’s comb with its tail, visually forming a large hole. In Contracted Belly Woman (1999), he created a “hole” on the human body. The form of this work was simple and refined. He did not sculpt the arms and legs, but opened a hole at the center of the upper torso and delineated the face with lines. It was a representative piece from the period when Lee’s style was changing. After 2000, Lee’s openwork technique had become more mature. Works like The Clouds (2007) and By the Lotus Pond (2007) had distinctive openwork features. Another example would be Jade (1998). The hole at the center of the palm was still represented as a kind of a niche, in which there were two Buddha statues. Comparing Jade to another work derived from it, Wandering in the Misty Mountains (2013), the latter already had a fully open “hole,” constituting the openwork while the Buddha statues were replaced by clouds, conveying a more profound artistic concept. However, one should not ignore that the form of “openwork” in Wandering in the Misty Mountains differed from the geometric “hole” created by Henry Moore. Lee’s “openwork” was of a more non-geometric, irregular, organic shape; a sculptural language of the “void” that seemed more characteristic of Lee. The artistic concept it conveyed was utterly different from Moore’s geometric “hole.” This meant that Lee had departed from the general “openwork” technique and moved towards depicting the “silent void of the Oriental culture,” which carried more specific meanings.
(4) The Open Void
Lee’s recent work (from 2013 to 2016) revealed a new structuralist tendency. In terms of techniques, he has changed from using plaster and clay for molding shapes to using a range of different techniques, such as welding metal sheets together, bending plastic sheets, puncturing holes, etc. In terms of form, he creates a combination of metal sheet structure, mass structure, and openwork. I have mentioned that Lee experimented on the flat surface in an earlier period. In 2008, he created the work, Goddess of the Earthly Creations, which displayed a mixed form of flat sheet structure and bulky mass structure. His recent works have embodied the culmination of the sheet structure. Moreover, Lee has integrated mature openwork techniques into these works, allowing us to see a unification of various artistic techniques. Drum Dancer (2013), Taichi (2013), and Subduing (2014) demonstrated Lee’s strong artistic style and visual language. If Lee’s works before the current period have shown a more realistic style, it is clear that he has now broken the rules of realistic sculpture and added more abstract elements and features of modern civilization. For instance, he added industrial elements, such as iron wires and sheets, in Empty Procession (2014). In his latest work, Bull Fight (2016), Lee seems to have found an almost perfect way to articulate his formal language. The maddened “bull” appears to only have a structural frame without any excessive volume. There are even openwork details on the structural frame, enhancing the transparency of the work. In my opinion, Lee has already surpassed the simple “openwork” at this stage, and begins to deal with the issue of sculptural space on the level of sculpture’s essence.
Essentially, sculpture refers to the three-dimensional form that uses an enclosed mass structure to inhabit a space. However, Lee’s flat sheet structure and the openwork have dissolved the sense of volume. These structures no longer occupied the space with their weighty volume but signified the existence of space with parts that were opened up or removed. In many of the works, such as Drum Dancer (2013), Taichi (2013), and Wave (2013), the heads of the human figures were only in half or compressed into a flat surface. If half a block mass, a surface, or a line could reveal space, why would one enclose it? At this stage, Lee has opened up the previously enclosed space and removed excessive volume as much as possible to create more “holes.” In his own words, this “allows the work to fully open up, extend, and exist in space.” Through opening up the internal space of his sculpture, Lee has practically created more “facets,” more perspectives to look at his work, and more transformation of space. Audience’s experience of a sculpture is not limited to the external surface anymore; instead, it enters the interior of the sculpture. Their eyes not only linger on the contour of the sculpture but also constantly traverse and penetrate the work. In works, such as Thinker (2014), the enclosure of the sculpture’s interior has almost gone, achieving an extremely ethereal, tranquil state; a state that we might call “the open void.”
3. The Concept and Contemporary Value of the Language of the “Void”
As mentioned earlier, the language of the “void” has substantiated Lee’s work and become his unique characteristic. By understanding this language, one can comprehend the artistic meaning of his work. I would like to compare Lee’s “void” to the similar concept of a few Western sculptors, and examine the unique meaning of Lee’s language of the “void.” I believe that Lee has reached a core concept in Western modern sculpture, but digressed from it to find his own path, which ended with his unique interpretation of the “void” as well as his breakthrough in artistic language and concept.
Taking a retrospective look on Western history of modern sculpture, it could be traced back to the master of sculpture, Rodin, and various schools that came later, such as Surrealism and Cubism. At the beginning of the twentieth-century, sculptors like Jean Arp and Alexander Archipenko started to puncture holes on their works. This significantly meaningful technique fueled the progress of sculpture and ushered in a new possibility of sculpture. The importance of this technique was manifested through the relationship between sculpture and space. Generally speaking, a sculpture is a three-dimensional entity that physically exists in space. It creates its own space while being surrounded by the space inhabited by its spectator. The space of the sculpture and the space of the spectator exist at the same time without penetrating each other. However, when the sculptors created “holes” on their works, the two spaces became connected. In other words, the physical space inhabited by the spectator penetrated the physical space of the sculpture.
Henry Moore has been considered the artist that perfected the concept of “holes.” During his artist career of more than sixty years, he kept exploring the internal and external space of sculpture. As early as 1932, Moore had created the first sculpture with a “hole,” which unified the front and back of the work. Through utilizing the “hole,” he had also formed his aesthetic viewpoint on the void. He argued that the internal void of a form possessed independent meanings. “A hole can itself have as much shape-meaning as a solid mass. —There is something mysterious implied by a hole.” In Western theology, it is said that God is the sole guarantor of integrity. On the contrary, Moore’s incomplete human figure with a hole has reflected the human condition after the death of God.
Existential sculpture master, Giacometti, did not use “holes.” However, the relationship between sculpture and space had been a topic he cared about. With tiny, thin forms, Giacometti reduced the volume of sculpture to its mere structural frame. He called this approach “to trim the fat from space,” which achieved the effect of opening up space, a result similar to opening “holes.” The difference was that the space of the sculpture has shrunk, forming a contrast to the physical space of the spectator while reinforcing the sense of solitude and nihilistic mood in Giacometti’s work.
In the 1960s, minimalist artists like David Smith and Richard Serra continued the investigation into the relationship between the void and the substance. For example, Smith considered his sculpture to be constituted of a series of spaces. In these spaces, the void and the substance should be treated equally. The “void” referred in minimalistic works was no longer the “hole,” but what lay in between the repetitive units in an exhibition space. As minimalist artists gradually blurred the boundary between sculpture and installation, and went on emphasizing the relationship of site between works and space and the concept of the works, a major shift began to take place in the course of Western modern sculpture
Lee’s exploration of the “void” has started from the concept and language of sculpture. On top of the core questions of “spatial relation” addressed by Western modern sculpture, Lee has added his delineation of the “void” in Oriental culture. He has discovered another type of formal language and aesthetic concept of the “void” that differ from Western sculpture. It is what I have termed “the open void.” For Lee, firstly, the “void” is a sculptural technique that renders the existence of a sculpture more interesting. It also breaks the common conception of a sculpture being “an enclosed mass structure.” Secondly, Lee adopts an approach to create the “hole” on his work that is different from the means adopted by the aforementioned Western sculptors. He does not simply make a hole or use the technique of “openwork,” but makes efforts to open up the interior of sculpture to a greater extent. The result of this persistent excavation of the sculptural interior is an image structured with fragments. Thirdly, in this fragmentized image, the “void” is not “carved out”; it exists. The fragmentized image contrarily reveals the existence of the “void.” It is because the “void” can only be defined by its opposite in a dichotomous, dialectical relationship, it is difficult to describe it. It can only be revealed indirectly. The “void” is the negative form opposite of the positive form, the illusion opposite of the substance, emptiness opposite of existence, absence opposite of presence, spirit opposite of matter, the other opposite of the self. Lee’s sculpture has successfully formulated a concept and form that allows people to perceive the “void.” It also reveals the dialectic principle of the world, in which everything has two sides and they are complementary to each other. Lastly, Lee’s “void” has created a fresh sense of space. In his sculpture, the inside of a sculpture is turned outside, and vice versa. It forbids the spectator to uphold a fixed, external perspective and assumes a dichotomous role of the subject to look at the sculpture as the object. On the contrary, the spectator’s line of sight follows the sculpture, traversing the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional planes, as well as the fourth dimension of time. The external space inhabited by the spectator and the internal space of the sculpture unite as one in one singular existence. In short, this is the “silent void in the Oriental culture” that embodies the state of object-self unification.
In summary, in “the open void” of Lee’s sculpture, there is no sign of mysticism. It is different from the nihilistic sentiments of existentialism. Contrarily, it conveys the implications of the Oriental philosophy. For Lee, the “void” not only possesses artistic value, it also has contemporary social value. He once said, “space is the expansion and contraction of form. The void can correspond to the world we experience. After removing excessive delineations in work as well as piles of garbage in life, what is left is something that resembles a matchstick. Its space becomes boundless. The bigger void one embraces, the more clear-headed one becomes.” In this passage, Lee compares the space of sculpture to a person’s living space and spiritual space, stating his contemplation on and critique of the contemporary society. Lee believes that “in contemporary art, there are too many monsters. They are the results of anxiety, uncertainty, and aloofness in this world. A wise person observes, comprehends, and transcends the limitation of the popular ideas in this era, and returns to his original intention.” The way to return to one’s original intention lies in the open space; “to release the state of mind that needs no veil.” In contemporary society, the existence of human being is enveloped by excessive worries and desires. The “void,” to a certain degree, can restore the unnatural state of life. Again, I would like to quote Lee’s notes: “We need to remove obstacles that create difficulties in artistic creation or in life; to expose them so that we could further pursue truth.” No matter in life or in artistic creation, Lee hopes to remove the obstacles to the mind and perception through his sculpture, and return to the original life in an open state.