I meet artist Kum Ja Lee at the opening of her exhibit Perception of Time and Space, which is on display until March 16 at Lane Community College. She is from South Korea and has lived in Eugene since 1999. Her son Kevin Kim, who grew up in Eugene, is with her. “I’m here as the translator,” he says.
I ask about the inspiration for her installation piece, a beautiful and ephemeral room-sized sculpture that has the same title as the exhibit. She speaks and her son translates when necessary. “Time is imperceptible,” she says. It passes but you can’t feel it or see it — not in the moment. A challenge she gives herself as an artist, then, is to translate the motion of time into a single image.
Her installation is made of different types of fiber — cotton, rayon, acrylic — whose threads are strung across the space of one of the two galleries in LCC’s Art Building, # 11. The colors of yarn were chosen as she went, and so were their positions. In this way, the installation was “improvised.”
Spontaneity is tied to chance and flux. These are two elements that characterize Eastern perceptions of time, Lee explains in her artist’s statement.
Her son is not an artist; he studied biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. But like a lot of other college students, he came home during the pandemic, and so he was here to help her build Perception of Time and Space. It’s too big for her to manage alone. Her husband helped the last time she made a similar piece, which was for her master of fine arts thesis at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland.
The overall effect of the fiber installation is of a rainbow grid drawn through space. “How far can you go into the room?” I ask. Lee looks down at a line that’s been marked on the floor, and takes a step beyond. Going to that spot, you almost feel as if you are part of the art.
The adjoining second gallery shows other of her works hung on the wall in more traditional fashion. Made of spray paint or fiber, graphite or oil paint, the pieces vary greatly in both medium and style. But they all have one thing in common, which is the artist’s fascination with the concept of time; how it exists yet is invisible, and how it may cause something to fade and disappear or, conversely, to grow and become more complicated.
Jamieson Fender and Grace Miller are among the students at the Feb. 23 opening. They like the patterns within the larger shapes found in “Nostalgia,” which is a work of art labeled as a “felt painting.” Actually, there is no paint in the work, Lee explains. The patterns Fender and Miller appreciate were created by a technique she invented. The effect of painting is created by an ironing process, pressing down hard to combine layers of colored felt.
Images in the show that are restricted to gray tones seem to correspond to times of sadness or loss. “Passage of Time III” is a series of canvases created with dye powder, graphite and acrylic paint. Being in a down mood, Lee says she threw the materials at the canvas and let them drip. She mimics throwing at the wall. “I just threw it,” she says. Afterward, she went back in and took some control over the subject matter, picking out shapes she saw in the drips and emphasizing patterns that appealed to her.
All the art in this exhibit was made over the past seven years. “Through the Bars” is a colorful fiber work that hangs on the wall and is highly sculptural. It has a central abstract design that represents hands clasped, as if in prayer. She made it during the pandemic. It’s meant to be a prayer, Kim says, as in wishing for COVID to be over.
“Now it almost is,” he says.
Kum Ja Lee will give a gallery talk at 1 pm Thursday, March 2. Lane Community College Art Galleries are on the main campus at 4000 E. 30th Avenue. Hours are 9 am to 4 pm, Monday throughThursday, during the academic year, closed during breaks. FREE.