“La Divina Commedia”: ceramic artist Lee Yun Hee – video

South Korean artist re-interprets European literary classic through ceramic art.

Lee Yun Hee weaves Eastern and Western influences to offer a contemporary re-interpretation of both aesthetic and literary traditions, constructing a fantasy world that speaks of hope, strength and determination.

Lee Yun Hee, 'La Divina Commedia',  porcelain, 29 x 29 x 12 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee, ‘La Divina Commedia’, porcelain, 29 x 29 x 12 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Young ceramic artist Lee Yun Hee (b. 1986, South Korea) majored in Ceramics at both BFA and MFA levels at Seoul’s Hong Ik University. Lee calls herself a collector. What she collects are everyday stories of the common people, about their desires and wants, their fears and anxiety, and ultimately “the cure” they seek to overcome the challenges and difficulties of life. There is much that she can relate to during her collections, for she is after all also human. Yet, it is not the hardships she clings to, but those ‘cures’ that each person resorts to.

Lee Yun Hee, 'Allegory 1',  porcelain, 35 x 35 x 60cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee, ‘Allegory 1’, porcelain, 35 x 35 x 60cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee is a like a dream catcher: she ‘bottles up’ the ‘curing processes’ and translates them into artworks, bringing them to life in ceramic form. Starting from stories, Lee creates her characters and their surroundings, at times using collected figurines as models. Her sculptural ceramic works are a window onto a fairytale, with fantastic imagery that ultimately speaks of earthly life and human nature.

Lee Yun Hee, 'Moiral & Noon', porcelain, 23 x 25 x 26 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee, ‘Moiral & Noon’, porcelain, 23 x 25 x 26 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee, 'Eve & Moiral', porcelain, 30 x 35 x 19 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee, ‘Eve & Moiral’, porcelain, 30 x 35 x 19 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee created her latest series entitled “La Divina Commedia” in 2013. Her inspiration came from Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy), the renowned 14th century epic poem by Italian poet and writer Dante Alighieri. The literary work recounts Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. In Lee’s contemporary take, the heroine of the story is a young girl who runs against all odds to overcome the trials and tribulations of life.

Lee Yun Hee, 'Noon', porcelain, 21 x 19 x 25 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee, ‘Noon’, porcelain, 21 x 19 x 25 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

The obstacles she encounters are represented by oppositions such as love in heaven and love on earth, good and evil, life and death. These elements lend themselves for disparate interpretations and viewing possibilities, depending on one’s perspective. Lee says in an interview with Hyundai:

Double-sidedness is the essential ambiguity of mind, life and existence.

Lee Yun Hee, 'Allegory 2', porcelain, 35 x 35 x 50cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee, ‘Allegory 2’, porcelain, 35 x 35 x 50cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

The porcelain series, currently on display in Lee’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong at Art Projects Gallery until 15 November 2015, was previously exhibited in “Korea Tomorrow 2014”, an exhibition organised by Hyundai at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) in Seoul. The show included 30 promising young Korean artists and creatives, whose short interviews were included in brilliant 30, an art film produced by Hyundai that examines the value of life and art through the eyes of 30 artists and leaders in the creative field.

Click here to watch Hyundai’s ‘brilliant 30’ interview with Lee Yun Hee on YouTube

In the video interview, Lee tells the story behind the series:

There was once a girl that received an oracle, telling her future. The knowledge, the predestined desire and insecurity left her troubled. In search of happiness and peace, she embarked on a journey. Along the way, she encountered many obstacles; but at the end, she discovered the peace she had been striving for. […] In this narrative of taking risks while proceeding to a destination, I placed a female protagonist. By overcoming anxiety and suppressing desire, the girl reaches a state of ultimate peace.

Lee Yun Hee, 'Amor ', porcelain, 30 x 20 x 60 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee, ‘Amor’, porcelain, 30 x 20 x 60 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Besides Dante’s Medieval masterpiece, Lee cites other important influences, such as Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings and Eugéne Delacroix’s illustrations. In the interview with Hyundai, the artist, who is a Christian, also admits that there might have been a subconscious influence from religion:

I can’t rule out the possibility that my religion influences my work to a certain degree, but it didn’t start on a religious basis. I might have been more influenced by Western medieval imagery and Amrita paintings – those might have created some religious aura. I’m also interested in animation, film, food and cultural history. I have been keen on collecting images since I was a child. I would rather cut out the pictures from cartoons than read them. Even the encyclopedia wasn’t safe. These processes have had more influence than anything else on my background as an artist.

Lee Yun Hee, 'La Divina Commedia #3', porcelain, 33 x 33 x 15 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee Yun Hee, ‘La Divina Commedia #3’, porcelain, 33 x 33 x 15 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Projects Gallery.

Lee’s ceramic artworks offer a three-dimensional, tactile visualisation of a myth, rendered through multi-layered compositions that can be followed in multiplicitous orders to create personal narratives, with “many different layers of staging”. It is the process of healing from anxiety and desire, she says, that makes the work become a story:

The narrative embedded in my work is based on desire, anxiety and healing. Although it is manipulated, it is a variation on fundamental myths and stories of growth. Desire and anxiety are the essential elements required for human being in general; karma is the essence of life. Life is ultimately a process of reaching nirvana from karma, of supplementing life with death, and of returning from presence to absence.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Korean artists, ceramics, sculpture, art about myth, gallery exhibitions, video interviews with artists

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