ROOM FOR THE MIND

South Korean artist JeeYoung Lee plays with her ideas and states of mind. Often in a very surrelistic way she materialises her own modern fantasy worlds. Looking a bit like photoshop images JeeYoung takes real life things and transforms them into oversized objects thereby reproducing her world of thought in a small studio space. She makes the invisible visible and still leaves most of the interpretation to the viewer.

You are interacting with space in a very playful manner and the settings you create are very diverse. Where do you get your ideas?

The pivotal point of inspiration for my work revolves around me. I always start by looking for stories from my personal experience and draw these moments of my life out into the world. Everything around me, including my experiences, feelings, relationships, my reality and current situations, small and large events in my life, childhood memories, and dreams all become my motifs. I also get inspiration from literature and mass media, which can be my motifs as they have also been captured in my memory.

Sometimes you really seem to expand space with your scenes, but you can only see the whole room once it is done. How do you get an impression of how it will look prior to this?

Once I have a specific scene in mind, this becomes a basis upon which I create a series of draft sketches and then do market research to check the availability of material while considering logistics and feasibility in order to actualize the set. From that point on, my goal is to physically build the set. It seems like an artistic instinct to envision what the whole room will look like when completed, so I honestly don’t have a very good explanation about how this is done. Images exist in my mind when I initiate a new piece, so I follow a sort of step-by-step processes toward actualizing them. I would say shooting test pictures is definitely a good way. As I’m placing objects in a set, I take pictures to test angles and lighting. This also helps me envision the final photographic image.

How do you decide how large or small objects should be?

Basically, the objects in my work are larger than life because I want them to look surreal. For instance, paper clips, which are a few centimeters long in reality, become hugely exaggerated in size like in Nightmare (2010) as do the Lego blocks in Gamer (2011). At times, objects to be placed in the foreground are actually made larger than those at the back of the space in order to emphasize the sense of perspective. I’ve found this effectively creates spatial depth within a confined area.

I have a wooden set in my studio. The one I have now has wheels under the walls, and their mobility enables me to adjust the size of the space. Before starting to make objects, I decide on the dimensions of the set first. I then narrow it down to the allocations and proportions of the objects to be placed within it. Though I generally build my sets using a premeditated scheme, there are always times when I exercise my aesthetic intuition and go with the flow enjoying the process of modification from my original plan. That is, the objects in my original plan don’t come with preset sizes for me to strictly follow. However, I have a visual feeling about the sizes and volumes of the objects in the set space as I have the complete image of the final scene in my mind. Sometimes however, I need to make several different sizes of an object and then choose the one that fits best in the actual space.

Are you sometimes surprised by the outcome yourself?

It usually takes over two months to complete a set. During these months, I go through occasional visual anguish, yet enjoy seeing the set gradually take shape. Thus, the outcome doesn’t in fact surprise me most of the time.

How does the small size of the room influence and complicate your work?

The set I work on sits inside my studio, which is 4 by 8 meters with a height of 2.4 meters. As it’s a comparably small studio, I can manage things myself. I also can create all the objects to fill the set with my hands and thus can make the most of that hand-made feel, which I would say is the main advantage.

One drawback I experience is the studio ceiling. I have trouble executing certain lighting setups due to its height. Also, the confinement of the space limits me from carrying out various types of settings. These circumstances, at times, keep me from visualizing what I have in my mind.

What is most challenging about your work?

Like most artists, overcoming myself and multi-tasking throughout the art-making process are the real challenges.

Why do you choose to work in an interior space when often depicting nature?

When visiting someone’s room, we can infer many things about the person. A room is a rather closed space. A room is, in its nature, a private domain of an individual, revealing who its owner is. This is why I choose an interior space, which is analogous to a room, as the setting for my work. The room or interior space in my work represents the room of my mind or a kind of psychological-landscape.

I love nature. Things in nature that I have observed and experienced serve as sources of inspiration for me. I often take elements from nature. Night grass in Treasure Hunt (2010) is one example and the pond in Resurrection (2011) is another.

Although these scenes are from my memories or imagination, they don’t necessarily correspond to real places. Rather, they are fabricated representations processed through my mind. As I intend to tell my stories in metaphorical and semiotic ways, I choose to create such new scenes of my own in a room/interior space rather than shooting them in real natural environments. I believe this is how I can convey my stories, more precisely and from my own perspective.

How do you feel about city spaces and urban environments (as an artist)?

I live and work in Seoul, which is the capital of South Korea. Urban scenes have become the object of my admiration and I’m amazed by the fact that we humans hold the ability to create and maintain these things. When I visited Hong Kong, I was also profoundly impressed by its skylines with skyscrapers, the co-existence of the modern world with the old, and the density of the city.

I sometimes feel that a city is like a mirage and all the scenes and lives within it seem so unreal. At these moments, I spend some time alone letting my mind wander and contemplating what lies beneath the surface of the city.

Which was your most interesting project so far? Why?

That would be Anxiety from 2013. This is because that piece was, personally, experimental to me. While most of my work, generally, results in one final photographic image, two parts make up Anxiety: a multi-channel video and a photograph diptych. The artistic intention was to express the division of consciousness and unconsciousness. The video, which is a sound performance, features performance artist Park Min-hee in the Anxiety set and her voice performance. The photographs deliberately remove human figures and feelings whereas the performance video, comparably explicitly, reveals internal emotions through the performer’s act. In particular, there is a scene in the video where the performer gazes into the camera. I don’t normally prefer to have the figures in my photographs draw all the viewers’ attention, but for this video scene, I experimented in this way to engage active communication between the viewers and the world.

Do you have any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share?

I don’t have confirmed exhibition schedules yet, and I have to keep quiet about those still being discussed but for the time being, I feel like staying away from anything exhausting. Instead, I want to channel my energy toward art-making, namely creating additional pieces for my Stage of Mind series and also thinking about the direction of future project.

As for my recent pieces, one employs the image of dandelion seeds as a motif to illustrate a story from my childhood. At present, I am working on a piece about desire, taking the motif of atoms. These two pieces have not yet been made public, but I wanted to share a glimpse with you here.

Thanks a lot for this interesting insight into your work.

This interview was taken by Lisa Lehnen

All images by JeeYoung Lee © OPIOM GALLERY 2016

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