By Mire LeePlus Icon
Mire Lee’s silicone sculptures resemble life forms that defy easy classification. These works, which look a bit like innards, are often equipped with hidden motors and oily liquids that make them slop and squish as they gently thrash about. Body horror and fetish culture are typically points of inquiry for the artist, who lives in Amsterdam and Seoul. She had her breakout solo show at the Art Sonje Center in the Korean capital in 2020. At the Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin, Lee is currently showing several sculptures she made between 2018 and 2021, alongside work by H. R. Giger (1940–2014), the Swiss painter and sculptor who is most fondly remembered for the extraterrestrial creatures he designed for the Alien film franchise. The show is on view through January 2. Below, Lee explains the bizarre origins of her latest works and the challenges of putting them alongside Giger’s.
No matter what you do as a sculptor, it’s impossible not to be reminded of a body. My training is quite traditional. I start by making a maquette, then I make a full one-to-one model sculpture in clay, and so on. I begin [a new work] mostly by picking up something from the previous project. I often have a technical interest in wanting to realize something very specific—let’s say, to reproduce the viscosity of a liquid or evoke the sounds of a certain movement—but it’s mixed with whatever inspirations I’m the most moved by, which vary, depending on the work.
With the recent works, I was very interested in the vore fetish. Vore is when you want to be devoured by someone or vice versa. It’s subcultural, almost, but I see it as a universal metaphor. It’s a desire so strong that you want to unite with another being. Vore is also something you can never realize. The core quality of vore, for me, its impossibility.
With all sexual fetishes, you can’t help it—it’s not something you can control. This feels similar to art. You always want to change something, but somehow, you can’t. The experience of vore is all about texture and scale. You want to be inside another being, in a space that’s warm, dark, soft. And, if you want to be swallowed whole, you have to be very small, or the other being has to be very big.
One of the works in the Schinkel show is called Endless House, 2021 [an oversized sculpture with organ-like forms that leak liquid silicone]. I was referencing an architectural model by Friedrich Kiesler [1890–1965]. It’s a house that doesn’t have a hard inside. There are no corners, but everything is connected, almost like a womb. At the time, I was very interested in borderline personality disorder. The work is about not having separation between yourself and the world, just as when you want to eat someone, there’s no distance.
I tend to make things that resemble lumps—they’re anonymous or deformed. Do I think my own work is grotesque? Maybe a bit. And I am inspired by feminism. My best friend is a feminist, and I’ve been guided by a lot of feminists in my life.
If feminism manifests in my work, it’s in a strange way. This work at the very beginning of the show, Faces, 2018 [a video featuring close-ups images of women], was initially part of an installation, so it wasn’t autonomous. Back then, the installation was called Andrea, in my mildest dreams . I wanted to call it Andrea because Andrea could be anybody—it’s a name for both sexes. The installation [which features appropriated footage of porn actresses in non-sexual situations amid a pool of silicone liquid] references the porn industry, in particular Japanese porn. For me, the [actresses] are beings that are violated and exploited, but they’re also beings I’m hugely attached to. You know how Simone de Beauvoir said that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”? She’s talking about how, as a female, you remain open and vulnerable. My work represents a more abstract status.
I always try to make my work feel warm. With the Schinkel Pavillion show, it was not easy. I think it came out too cold, too cool. But I try to make things a little bit ugly each time, so there’s a little shabbiness overall, yet it was difficult to do because the space was just too beautiful, with Giger’s work and all. [Philosopher] Avital Ronell says if there’s a work that hurts you, that’s the work you need. As I understand it, she means that it moves you.
—As told to Alex Greenberger