“Coal is the pure mineral that is left after having burnt out ordinary materials,” explains the Korean installation artist Lee Bae. “For me, it represented the final form of all matter in the world. I wanted to show the properties of this pure and infinite material through my sculptures.” It began in 1991, in Paris, because Bae couldn’t afford paints. He bought good old grilling charcoal and began assembling the briquettes into art. For Bae, charcoal is a powerful reminder of life’s cyclical nature: it represents both beginnings and endings, life and death. His blackened wood shards, carbonized tree trunks, and works on canvas are as silent as a primeval forest, and as unsettling. —E.C.
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