Interview With Korean Artist JeeYoung Lee
When I saw the images of Korean artist and photographer JeeYoung Lee’s work last December, along with much of the internet browsing population, I’m sure, I was stunned. Such an abundant and free-flowing imagination, such rich use of color and form, and so many hypnotically strange ways to transform a tiny studio, and with her own two hands. As her new catalogue notes:
For weeks, sometimes months, she creates the fabric of a universe born from her mind within the confines of her 3 x 6 m studio. She does so with infinite minutiae and extraordinary patience, in order to exclude any ulterior photographic alteration.
Opiom Gallery Catalogue
Lee’s images caused a sensation, and resulted in headlines marveling at her use of form, her plethora of ideas and most importantly for the post FX generation, her amazing ability to eschew the use of Photoshop. Apparently no self-respecting artist or designer leaves home without Creative Suite or Blender on their laptop. It seems no-one actually makes anything anymore.
Opiom Gallery Show
Her show at The Opiom Gallery in France firmly places Ms Lee on the world art scene, and deservedly so. JeeYoung Lee is just the breath of fresh air we all need. With images which are equal parts beautiful and disturbing, it is often tricky to separate daydream from nightmare. Aptly titled “Stage of Mind”, the collection reflects such a varied array of psychological states, I couldn’t help wondering, where do these ideas come from, what is the artist trying to say, and why?
So I thought I’d ask her.
The Little Match Girl
DV: JeeYoung, I find your artwork beautiful and intriguing. It makes me feel as though I’ve wandered into a magical world like Alice in Wonderland. Do you write or imagine a story before you create each room? Does a story unfold in your mind during the process?
JeeYoung Lee: Of course! Each piece represents an event and emotional state in my life, although they roughly fall under a similar subject. Storytelling is an essential component in my creative process. I put myself in the center of the story, immersing myself to the point of obsession. I feel this process comes easy to me because I search for stories based on my experience.
I put myself in the center of the story, immersing myself to the point of obsession.
You are a photographer and you mention working in film, do you think you will ever make a movie with a similar aesthetic or theme?
I am taking my first baby steps into video. For now I am interested in documenting my creative process or perhaps directing a performance film under the same theme as Stage of Mind. I think the atmosphere and the mood of the outcome will be similar to what I am doing now, other than the moving character.
There are other beings in your rooms; plants and animals, could there be other characters with which to interact?
The objects I place in the room are designed to interact with one another. They each hold a meaning. For instance, the rats in Last Supper have a negative connotation. The connection between the character and the rats is organic.
I had a specific person in mind when I decided to place the black dog in My Chemical Romance: it was someone who had hurt me and many others. Sweet Appetite would make a good example too. Simply think about the relationship between the butterfly and the flycatcher.
I had a specific person in mind when I decided to place the black dog in My Chemical Romance: it was someone who had hurt me and many others.
The other beings that appear in my photographs are indispensable elements that establish a connection with the character or aid in the storytelling process.
Stage of Mind series will probably remain a one-person show because I feel the tension between the character and objects are enough to tell a good story. I use a lot of metaphor in my work, so dissecting every element could close doors to interesting interpretations. It would take a very interesting story for me to consider adding another character.
I use a lot of metaphor in my work, so dissecting every element could close doors to interesting interpretations.
Your imagination is so rich, where will it lead you next? Do you have other talents you’d like to explore too? Writing poetry or fashion perhaps?
I can’t deny my obsession over fashion. Unfortunately writing poems and designing are not my area of expertise. I see myself more as a visual artist, so unless there are interesting collaboration offers, I will stay in my familiar turf. But then again I have no intention to limit my potential or area. It may not be in the foreseeable future. I am not going to eliminate the possibility of expanding my experience or borrowing interesting principles. Right now I am more focused on experimenting on different formats to open new possibilities.
I have no intention to limit my potential or area.
What is the most inspiring event / person / music that you have ever experienced?
I tend to be oversensitive so the most trivial, menial things blow me away at times. There were a few bumps along the way, but I can tell you that the decision to become an artist really changed my life. It took a lot of thought and deliberation because I knew life as an artist would not be easy in Korea, although I understand living a creative life can be challenging anywhere. I had to look long and hard into myself. This became a habit that later became the foundation of my current series.
I look for inspiration in the things that happen to me and those around me rather than a specific person. Besides, I still discover new things about myself!
Again with music – there are so many! I have been listening to a lot of Roger Davidson tracks lately. His music reminds me of what life is like.
The decision to become an artist really changed my life.
How did the opening at Opiom Gallery go?
As a special event for the opening, we placed a self-timer camera, transforming the little stage into a photo booth. The guests seemed delighted with it.
The photos were printed instantly. Everyone went back home with a souvenir. We all took turn taking pictures! I am certain everyone had lots of fun that night. I have a feeling you would have enjoyed it too. I know I did.
I still discover new things about myself!