10 Minutes with Yoojin Lee

Yoojin Lee‘s work moves across and in-between performance, sound, text, installation, and video to embody ways of becoming and knowing through care, resistance, and multiple temporalities. Her work engages with conditions of (in)activity and (un)productivity; particularly by thinking/feeling through sleep, sloth and slowness. How can sleep and a sleeping body become a site of quiet resistance? How can slow, symbiotic tenderness disrupt the timescape of linear and constant output?
Through the sleeping, horizontal body, Lee asks how it can become a site of quiet resistance in a 24/7 world that demands constant activation.

Open Space Interviews Yoojin Lee on her artistic practice, her recent work on sleep, the Open Space mentorship program, and more.

Before moving to London, UK you studied in the Netherlands. How did you find the shift in living and working in London after Amsterdam? 

I had periods of living and studying in the UK, as a child as well as an adult, before going to the Netherlands. So in a way moving to London felt like coming back but also not at the same time. Things change and you change, as always. I think this feels natural to me probably because I’ve moved around a lot since I was little. Anyway, moving (back) to London from Amsterdam coincided with the moment I was trying to find a place to call home together with a loved one, trying to continue what I want to do in my work, and trying to find people with whom I can share my work, questions, and worlds. So it wasn’t the easiest thing but I learned and unlearned a lot. In this shift, there have been (and still are) uncertainties, longings, trust, doubts, love, (re)bondings, renewals, frustrations, and gleanings.

Ostriches are diurnal but may be active on moonlit nights, as part of As long as there is time to sleep, 2018
Installation view, bb15, 2018
Image courtesy of the artist and bb15

Your work moves across and in-between performance, sound, text, installation, and video and questions how sleep and a sleeping body become a site of quiet resistance. What medium works best for you to examine the act of sleeping? How did your practice and interest evolve over the years? 

Sleep has such a rich texture and I feel that each thread of it asks for a different shape and form. And then those will mutate once again depending on the space, moment, and bodies they come to encounter. I’ve made lullabies, videos, t-shirts, pillowcases, publications, window vinyl, herbal tea, drawings, and prints. I’ve done performances, readings, appliqué on a blanket from my mum, hand-embroidery, and all-nighters. I’ve collected broken light bulbs and OPEN signs, shared stories with old friends and strangers, written a text to guide a group of people to lie down and become horizontal next to agroindustrial greenhouses, and turned the lights off in exhibition spaces. Slowly, sleep has become not so much a theme in my work but rather a way of knowing. A way of being and becoming in the world, becoming with the world, with others. This connects to my interest in slowness, sloth, symbiotic and animist ways of being and knowing, and the right to time that is independent of production and consumption value. 

Which artists or theorists have inspired and influenced your artistic practice? 

There would be many and they keep changing. Usually, they wouldn’t even be particular people… They would be a tune someone’s quietly whistling as I walk out of a station, how a climbing plant is wrapping itself around a metal gate, or the layout of text in a flyer that slipped through the letter flap. And perhaps they’re not generally considered artists or theorists but the shamans I encountered in Korea while growing up have left a deep impression on me. I also appreciate it when someone’s or something’s thought-feelings resonate with what I’m figuring out at that very moment. When Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep came out it helped me better articulate what I’d been doing at the time. I find solace in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work. Trinh T. Minh-ha’s writing has been encouraging and affirming, especially over the last year or so. André Lepecki’s work resonates with me in many ways, not only through his books Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement and Singularities: Dance in the Age of Performance but also through his numerous talks. His work kept me in the company, especially during the lockdowns and while I was working on slowth (habitats). Pien Vrijhof has been my teacher and companion since I met her at Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. She opened up ways for me to be with space and time. And to trust the intelligence of your own body. She brought up the phrase ‘intelligent honesty’ when we were talking about my work recently. I think I’ll always remember this. I’m also indebted to my collaborators, especially Giuseppe Termine for his presence and incredible sensibility. Working with him is always an organic process of exchange and mutual understanding.

How do you perceive time and the concept of space? 

I feel that there’s always time in space and space in time, which is probably natural. I have to think about them together. And I often end up involving multiple temporalities and spatialities in my work. I think about how they can be together without becoming flattened or linear. I’ve been thinking about how there are fewer and fewer gaps in the spaces and times we dwell in. How open spaces and times are disappearing. And how the acceleration and control of both circulation and communication time can bring about the collapse of space by time. What does this mean for different beings residing in time and space, with their different paces, rhythms, textures, and imprints? 

As long as there is time to sleep, 2018
Installation view, Nest, 2022
Image courtesy of the artist and Nest
Photography by Charlott Markus

You have performed Lie down: a prelude twice already, do you see this performance and installation moving to other countries/institutions?

Yes, it was wonderful to share its second iteration this year, which first took place in 2018. Lie down: a prelude weaves together stories around sleep from (anonymous) contributors and fragments of found texts. And the tactile sounds of the contact between the body and the blanket merge with the reading voice. Each iteration holds stories from different contributors and fragments of text that I come across at that time. From sleep research papers to sleep product advertisements to song lyrics. This time it also included stories from the women with whom I’ve shared the most of my sleeping hours – my mum and my sister – as well as old friends and new neighbours. So it’s different each time. I think the work becomes a sort of container that briefly holds together these things reflecting that very moment, with all their frictions and contradictions as well as tenderness and vulnerabilities. So yes, I could see it unfolding in different iterations in other places or contexts. Especially if there’s a sense of mutual understanding of the processes it involves and a shared willingness to engage in conversations that might arise from that particular moment or context. 

Lie down: a prelude (second iteration), 2022, as part of As long as there is time to sleep, 2018
Image courtesy of the artist and Nest
Photography by Lotte van Uittert

You responded to Open Space’s Mentorship open call. How did you find the Mentoring sessions with Open Space so far? Has it helped with the development of your ideas or body of work? 

I loved how Huma approached it as a mutual exchange from the beginning. And it felt like a safe space to openly share concerns, questions, and experiences. We’ve mainly talked about more practical things so far, which has been helpful in my current situation. But our conversations and time spent together have also reminded me that you can reach out and build meaningful relationships in your own way while just being how you are and just going through what you’re going through at that moment. Sometimes you forget that. Having Huma’s company has been a wonderful support, especially in this ongoing process of (re)settling down and finding beings to share with.

slowth (habitats), 2020
Image courtesy of the artist and Titanik
Photography by Hertta Kiiski

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on new iterations of slowth (habitats), which was first presented at the end of 2020. slowth (habitats) is a performance/installation that builds upon my continued engagement with slowness in which sloths are my guide. It weaves together the contacts between the body, voice, electronic signals, ‘banner-habitats’ (banners made with secondhand and offcut fabrics), discarded electrical cables, encountered locations, hand-embroidered text, the garment of photosynthetic textile coated with microorganisms including algae and cyanobacteria. I collaborated with Giuseppe Termine for the soundscape and with Post Carbon Lab for the garment with photosynthetic coating. The new iterations will stem from this work but will find different shapes, forms, durations, and textures. I’ll be working with Giuseppe more closely, and I’m happy that I’ll be receiving some good support in realising the new iterations. I’m looking forward to a couple of residencies and a conversation I’ll have with André Lepecki. 

slowth (habitats), 2020
Image courtesy of the artist and Titanik
Photography by Hertta Kiiski