Interview with JEEYOUNG LEE
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QUESTION: What did you study? Did that formal education got you into your actual work concept?
ANSWER: I got my bachelor’s degree in visual communication design and a master’s degree in photography at Hongik University in Seoul. When I was an undergraduate I chose photography for my graduate exhibition which became the blueprint for the ‘Stage of Mind’ series. I ended up going to graduate school to learn more about photography, but classic training was not a determining factor for my signature concept and platform. While an undergraduate I was interested in theatre arts and production design. I was an active member of a filmmaking club in the school, often heading the stage setup team. And I worked as an assistant at a television commercial production company. I believe my character, interest, and experience are what shapes what I create today.
Q: Could you guide us through the process in which you create and develop your work? You said in previous interviews that you choose not to alter your photographs digitally, why is that?
A: Once I decide on a theme and subject, I make a rough draft of what I am going to create. Then I move on to research, preparation, and planning. I often test out different materials to find the right one. Once that is all settled it is time for actual production. I have a wooden frame setup in my studio. I paint it, create objects that go into the set, and fill it one item at a time. When the set is complete, I take test shots of the set. I appear in many of my photographs as a model. The final output is taken with a 4×5 large format film camera. The set is dissembled once the final photograph is produced.
Existence is a key component of my work. I do not digitally modify my photographs for the reasons below.
What I make is a recreation of my mental landscape, but it is ‘real’ because it reflects my experience and emotions. I materialize what is in my head by building an installation and documenting the scene on photograph, a media that is used to record reality. I believe this explains why I choose photography and installation as a medium.
The final artwork is in the form of photography, but I consider the entire process of building an installation, posing, taking the photograph, and destroying the set an integral part of my artistic creations. The grueling process of building the set is almost like a spiritual journey. Capturing a moment in time, making an installation, and posing behind the camera allows me to take a step back and observe the experience as a third person. In other words, I relive the experience as the protagonist and an observer. My artwork allows me to look back at my experience but it also helps me get over the emotions involved with that experience. It is all in part of my effort to grow and progress by taking a positive look at myself and my life.
Q: Which artists have influenced and inspired you?
A: My favorite artist changes all the time. Recently I like the works of Chiharu Shiota and Kusama Yayoi. Tim Burton and Michel Gondry are longtime favorites. I am inspired by set art photographers as well.
Q: When Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition was held in Buenos Aires it was a hit. In her exhibitions, interaction with a specific space is essential and also fluid, in constant change and adaptation. What benefits and negative aspects can you identify in carrying out the installations in your studio instead of in galleries? What effects does being a photograph the final product has in the viewers and the art piece itself?
A: What I create in my studio is a recording of sorts of my time and I am free from time restrictions but I am restricted in terms of space.
When I create an installation for the audience to experience, I consider their perception of the space and experience an essential part of my work. The question of ‘where’ is also an important part of my installation. When I recreate an installation piece, I adjust details, scale, and design to suit the location. It means every installation is different even if it is a replica of a certain work that I produced in the past.
None of my installations are meant to be preserved permanently. The photograph is the result of the overall and complex process of my work.
I hope the viewers get to expand their imagination beyond the scene and find something meaningful in my work. I hope they discover a story of their own.
Q: Which of your works would you pick as your favourites? Why?
A: Anxiety was special for me. The piece consists of two parts; video and photography.
They represent the conscious realm/exterior and subconscious realm/interior. I hired a performer and recorded her performance on video. The video portion of this piece takes a much direct approach to emotions. Anxiety was experimental for me in that I separated my inner self into two layers – the conscious and subconscious – as if to have a dream within a dream.
I want to produce more videos in the future. I believe this piece will be a good reference.
Q: Some people present your work as surrealist, do you feel connected to that movement?
A: I think people say that my photographs are surrealist because I use metaphors, symbols, and codes to express myself visually. I have always been interested in reinterpreting what feels familiar and turn it into something unfamiliar.
Q: Do you feel your work to be political in some way?
A: I don’t think my work has any political messages. It focuses more on personal experience, memories, and emotions. But if I pick up an interest in certain political movements, it will certainly become a theme in my future work.
Q: Which three words would you pick to describe your country with? How do you feel Korea has influenced your work?
A: Competitive, pressure, and speed. Korea has come a long way in such a short time. We are very sensitive to change and we are quick to pick up new trends. We also have very high expectations for each individual. As part of this society, I always feel pressure and tension in life which in turn is expressed in my photographs.
Q: In the past years, Asian art has had a huge impact worldwide. Do notice your national art scenery increasing and broadening globally? How do you feel about this exchange?
A: I know that Korean cinema and pop culture has gained a large following over the years. Social media has allowed us to create groups that share the same interest with very little constraints of location. I believe this kind of cultural exchange will broaden peoples’ views and help people get over cultural differences. In times like these, we are defined by what we like more than where we are.
Q: Would you like to work with a team in the future? What are your next steps?
A: I always welcome working with a team! For the moment I am planning to film a performance video with a choreographer for my new work. I am very interested in environmental issues as well. Especially plastic. I want to create something using upcycled materials to convey this issue.
JeeYoung Lee gained her BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in visual communication design from Hongik university and MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in photography from Hongik Graduate University, Seoul, Korea.
She has had a total of 11 solo exhibitions including Devaneios: Os Mundos de JeeYoung Lee (Farol Santander, Brazil), Stage of Mind (K11 Art Space, Hong Kong), and Stage of Mind: Scène d’Esprit (Opiom Gallery, France). She has also taken part in numerous group exhibitions such as The New Era of Photography: The Fever of “Self- Portraits” (Pier 2 Art Center, Taiwan), Another Way of Telling (Suwon IPark Museum of Art, South Korea), The Secret Kingdom (Buk Seoul Museum of Art, South Korea), and Imaginarium (Singapore Art Museum, Singapore).
Much has been published about her work in professional magazines and the worldwide media including BBC culture, CNN international, the Huffington Post, the New York Times, France 3 National news and more.
JeeYoung Lee is a recipient of multiple artistic awards including The Sovereign Asian Art Prize Finalists Top 30 (2012, Hong Kong) and OCI Young Creatives (2013, South Korea).
Biografía – Tatiana Cwaigenberg
Tatiana Cwaigenberg es una estudiante argentina que vive en Buenos Aires y pasó el año final de su educación inicial en Londres. Asiste a un taller de escritura creativa, estudia música e idiomas y está incursionando en la realización cinematográfica. Da apoyo escolar para chicos/as de primaria y jardín en un merendero autogestionado por estudiantes.