A Haven in the Azores and the EASTMAN
“For me a journey is to return”, Hun Chung Lee often writes and emphasizes. I recall this as I return to the Azores to meet him yet again. We got to know each other in Lisbon when Lee was in residence and a close relationship was born from that, something natural whenever one follows someone’s artistic production. At the time, there was the will now re-enacted in the island, the need to escape his studio’s megalomania, to be anonymous. To have time to use his hands. For those who look at him, to actively meditate.
It’s not easy in Seoul. A large-sized studio, assistants and requests, calls or meetings occupy most of the day. And, indeed, if there is any place with such a contemplative or mystical aura, then it is this archipelago right in the middle of the Atlantic.
Lee has this ravenous quest for what is in the middle: steadiness, balance and the process of it all, both in his work and personal life. The two get merged and his house is also his work. His practice lies precisely in this intersection of different disciplines, between being a thing and its opposite, without any labels or final conclusions. More important than the destination is the path itself: the journey. Always the journey. I arrived at Pico do Refúgio subjected to this context, to follow the result of his month-long artistic residence. Lodged in an early 17th-century farmhouse on the north coast, the rural tourism of Pico do Refúgio – Casas de Campo is undoubtedly a haven for many artists.
As usual in this program promoted by Bernardo Brito Abreu, each new residence has an open-day, where the invited artist publicly discloses the project. The latter is conducted under absolute artistic freedom, without any themes or restrictions. The only thing, as he tells me, is an expected “response to the place”. Therefore, and after an introductory chat, Hun Chung Lee presents us the final moment of his stay: a performative burn. To achieve that, he begins by asking the participants to write down a sentence, an idea or a wish on paper, and only then we walk up the hill. There, we find the conceived sculpture: EASTMAN. A chair made of cement and different types of clay found in S. Miguel, next to the mould of sawn timber that shaped it, where each visitor deposits their writings. Finally, the papers are burned alongside the negative, until they both became nothing but ashes. All this at dusk.
Moment-performance, the act of gathering around a campfire, this notion of circle, of propagation is an ancestral tradition: made of stories, ideas, the flame itself. Hypnotic, intense, sometimes commemorative, sometimes introspective. We roam between these different shifts, as Lee had already taught us. We find ourselves between the remaining sculpture and the mould that is no longer seen.
Accustomed to working in ceramics, it is the action of fire that makes the modelled work resistant to time and perhaps more beautiful. Nevertheless, of the four elements that take part in the cooking process, only the soil remains. Just as now, when only the work comprised of different soil layers remains. Each layer with different types of stories, origins, epochs. Akin to the surrounding island: “a vestige of the accumulation of time”. Like our skin. In their own way, the island, the sculpture, the human body are vestiges subjected to the erosion, to our glances, to degradation. And, under this parallelism, EASTMAN is us and the fire, a metaphor of our own life that “cannot be controlled” and the forces of change and transformation that surround us and sometimes provide steady ground.
Perhaps this is one of the many possible interpretations I write from this “dream house”, where artists are challenged to “allow themselves to be contaminated by the human side, by history, by memory and by the island territory, thus contaminating the landscape and people who welcomed them as a response”.
Just another reflection that emerges as a burning spark from the incandescent body and provides a hint to the potential of this territory and project. As I return, I know that, for at least a few more days, we will all be able to observe EASTMAN’s Hun Chung Lee at the peak of Pico do Refúgio and, until June 30, some of the drawings that gave rise to it. These drawings are found in the exhibition curated by Miguel von Hafe Pérez, O olhar divergente – As Residências do Pico do Refúgio como património prospetivo, displayed at Arquipélago – Centro de Artes Contemporâneas, along with all the other artists who visited the place producing a total of 65 works.
*Carolina travelled by invitation from Pico do Refúgio – Casa de Campo to follow Hun Chung Lee’s performance.