A friend invited me to go along with her to view Korean artist JeeYoung Lee’s exhibition and private tour on the last day of the artist’s exhibition at K11 Art Mall. It was lovely to meet the artist and she herself gave the tour in Korean, along with a Cantonese translator. Cantonese is not my first language, so I couldn’t catch everything that the artist said about her works, but I managed to learn a little something new straight from the artist herself!
Stage of Mind seems to be a play on the phrase “state of mind,” and it’s a great title that both expresses how JeeYoung Lee’s artworks are centered around her life experiences, memories and the things that happen around her, and at the same time alludes to the stage-like sets that she creates. Lee works on one set at a time in her studio, freezes the moment in a photograph, before taking it all down. She treats the experience like she’s reliving a memory before deinstalling the sets and in a sense, moving on. I would just wish I could keep all of the pretty sets!
| Cover picture: JeeYoung Lee, Resurrection, 2011, pigment print |
The exhibition revolves around the theme of love and Lee’s experiences with it. It journeys from a bitter beginning to a hopeful end, and I like how the “cover” artwork for Stage of Mind is Resurrection. The artwork references to a traditional Korean folktale Shimcheongga (심청가). In short, the story is about a girl named Shim Cheong who offered herself as a sacrifice to the sea god/king to help restore her blind father’s eyesight. The sea king was moved by her actions and returned her to land in a lotus flower and her dad’s eyesight is later restored and everyone’s happy.
It is a great visual, and one that brings a message of hope to the exhibition. The artist often puts herself in her photography, though her face is often turned away from the camera. In Resurrection, she is the one who emerges from the lotus blossom.
The exhibition doesn’t start off so pretty and happy though! The first piece in the exhibition is My Chemical Romance, one of my favourites. It features a tangle of yellow and black pipes with ominous smoke coming out in places. To be honest, when I first saw it, I felt confused. Pipes? What’s that about?
JeeYoung Lee, My Chemical Romance, 2013, pigment print.
Lee later explained that My Chemical Romance was meant to illustrate her relationship with an ex-boyfriend. Yellow and black are warning colors, signifying danger ahead. It sounds like a sad story there but I love the idea that you can say to an ex-bf: All you amount to is a bunch of black and yellow pipes. Best line ever? HAHAHA.
Another interesting piece is Gamer, a set overrun with Lego blocks, mostly blue with some yellow, green, pink and red blocks. The first thing I thought of was actually the game Tetris. Back when smartphones didn’t exist and my flip phone was the best thing in my life (I still think my flip phone is my prettiest phone so far) and Tetris was the only game available on my phone, I played Tetris quite a bit, always neatly stacking my Tetris blocks and clearing the rows before the rows inevitably accumulated and the game was over.
JeeYoung Lee, Gamer, 2011, pigment print.
The man in the piece, who is manually stacking the giant Lego blocks, is one horrible gamer. The blocks are messy with many gaps in between, with no one almost-completed row. Lee mentioned that the piece represented the walls of her heart. It sure doesn’t seem like a game anyone would win, if it’s a Tetris game, the blocks would hit the ceiling in no time.
JeeYoung Lee, Anxiety, 2013, pigment print.
Anxiety seems to show the peak of Lee’s bad experiences in love. A large diptych (which is used to mean that there are two panels), eerily all-white, shows a room covered in bumps, like a skin disease. On the right panel, there is a person lying on the ground (it’s a body cast, not a model, thank goodness), covered by a cloth and more bumps. Lee summed up the idea as “no pain, no gain” but gosh, that’s too painful for me.
Although I have to say, I love the pink wall the artwork was displayed on. The entire space had white walls, but I figure this piece was intentionally set against a pink wall to highlight the white of the piece. I found out that the colors of the walls in an exhibition space was actually a curatorial consideration in a recent curatorial school project, but I will save that story for another time.
Here is my favourite piece in the exhibition, Reaching for the Stars! The title suggests a simple yearning, and although Lee explained that the piece is not as inspiring as it seems, I choose to take it the other way. ;)
JeeYoung Lee, Reaching for the Stars, 2009, pigment print.
The photo shows Babylonian towers in the making, based on the biblical story wherein the building of the Tower of Babel was disrupted when the workers could not understand the different languages that everyone was speaking. The piece conveys that sense of confusion, especially with the marbles on the ground meant to make you trip and fall. (Seriously, how did Lee work with all those marbles? What a feat!) The person shown in the image counters all that by climbing a ladder to reach for the things he/she wants.
I love that detail of that lone star at the top of the image, so close yet just slightly out of reach. Wouldn’t that be the easiest star to grab? But the person is instead facing the opposite direction and seems to be reaching for even better, brilliant stars that are not seen but we hope to see.
JeeYoung Lee, Broken Heart, 2011, pigment print.
Using eggs to hit rocks is very much an act of desperation, and is perhaps the perfect way to illustrate the feeling of having a Broken Heart. Large black rocks have emerged out of the ground and walls and sit unmoved, while a lady in orange takes yet another large egg to hit the rocks. Broken eggshells and egg yolk are scattered across the room and I love how two rocks are seen with egg yolk spilled across their surfaces.
It’s an interesting detail that both the rocks and the eggs are about the same large size. Unfortunately, the eggs are still too weak to take a crack in the rocks.
It’s a great feat that the scene looks so real when you see the image at a distance, as if those are real cracked eggs scattered across a gorgeous blue colored set. It’s only when you go up close that the egg shells and yolk look a little synthetic.
Foodchain is an interesting work that seems to oppose the meaning of the title, with a pregnant woman shown sitting in the midst of encroaching veins/vessels. It is easy to think that the setting is the inside of a womb, and if it is, it sure is a pretty clean version of it. Lee is very open to people’s interpretations of her work though, and welcomed our opinions of her various photos.
JeeYoung Lee, Foodchain, 2008, pigment print.
Relating the work to biological elements was my first response too, but I didn’t like the idea of that, so I was a little turned off by the work at first. After thinking about it, I realized I didn’t have to see it that way.
There’s always this Asian thing, I would say, to get married and have a family. When you reach the appropriate age, people around you start pushing you to start dating, and on and on. Once you inform someone of your relationship status, it’s guaranteed that everyone else around you, whether young or old, will find out in an instant. You don’t even need Facebook for that.
This artwork seems to address that kind of societal pressure. I like to think the veins are like gossip vines, slowly creeping up around you, intent to be privy on your private details and you’re stuck in the center of it all, obligated to listen to everyone’s judgments.
JeeYoung Lee, Treasure Hunt, 2010, pigment print.
I find Treasure Hunt cutely whimsical, and the moon and lucious grass shown in the photo makes me think of quiet nights of star-gazing. Instead, the girl in the photo is searching for treasures in the grass, maybe one of those bright dots scattered in the grass. Lee mentioned that it was like searching for a needle in a haystack, so maybe I will just settle for lying back and basking in the moonlight.
JeeYoung Lee, Nightmare, 2010, pigment print.
On the opposite wall, Nightmare gives a startlingly different visual, with a flurry of paperclips chasing after a woman. Nightmare was actually inspired by a dream (or nightmare) Lee had. Sure doesn’t sound nice, and I will probably be running away in a blind panic like in the woman in the image.
JeeYoung Lee, LoveSeek, 2014, installation.
The highlight of the exhibition is definitely the installation Loveseek that Lee built right in K11 art space. It’s fascinating to see how the set looks like in real life, with tons of wires strung from the ceiling so that every branch and leaf is positioned exactly and have a windswept effect.
We were also allowed to step into the installation and sit at the table, though we were warned not to knock over any leaves or whatever. ;) Lee also very graciously took photos with those of us in the tour!
Viewing Loveseek as an installation and as a photo is very different though. With the installation, I was excited to see how Lee’s set looked, and I loved the wooden table and chair and the giant opened book, and the individual pink and green leaves that were half-dangling in the air.
Photography instead allows for an atmospheric effect to be created, and there is a sense of serenity in the image of LoveSeek. It’s definitely different when I took a picture in the set for fun but looked somewhat out of place.
JeeYoung Lee, LoveSeek, 2014, pigment print.
Lee emphasized the open window in the set, and thought that the act of looking out a window gave a sense of hope. It’s a great piece to end the exhibition, with a feeling of contentment and calm to round out her experiences with love.
Looking at the artworks again, I really like how Lee paints the walls of her sets, especially in Broken Heart, Foodchain, Treasure Hunt and Loveseek. The colors are gorgeous and they add to the setting and the eventual photo.
To see Lee work on the installation of Loveseek and talk about her work, check out this video:
Going to the Stage of Mind exhibition and tour was a fun experience, and it’s cool how K11 art space looks out into the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. Be sure to keep a look out for the art space when you’re walking by!
JeeYoung Lee is represented by OPIOM Gallery. See more of her artworks at their website.