When half way through the journey of our life
I found that I was in a gloomy wood,
because the path which led aright was lost.
And ah, how hard it is to say just what
this wild and rough and stubborn woodland was,
the very thought of which renes my fear!
-Dante Alighieri <The Divine Comedy-Inferno> Vol. 1
From the face of the pilgrim, who has left the journey of asceticism, a golden glaze flows like tears of blood. The stack of skulls on the girl’s head seems likethe weight of life which is not kind to anyone (Pilgrim, 2016). The formative objects, which load ceramics inthe shapes of tiled roofs,are reminiscent of temples and the girl who lays down in the gap, Haetae, sphinx, and Gandihi, seem to compress Eastern and Western religion(White night, 2017). The great epic bythe ceramist Yun-Hee Lee reachs a climax in mural works that cover entire exhibition halls. The ancient temple that is made up of a dozen wall ceramics is condensed around the center story of the novel, so it is full of symbolic objects thathave a wide range of interpretations. ‘The girl’, who always appears in every single ceramic Relief, goes somewhere on a deer, lays down as an exhausted body on a pile of crape-myrtle for a while, holds a child in her bosom or passes between troika wooden horses. The pile of bones and skulls faced in between is a factor that gives the girl a trial and a tension to her entire journey(La Divina Commedia, 2014-2019).
Unlike the elegance of a pure white which is often associated with white porcelain, Lee’sceramicsshow it’s total glamour. The golden glaze and delicate coloring, which are reminiscent of medieval French ceramics with majestic narration, is not to be on the same levelas white porcelains we have seen. Because it is based on literary qualities, it can add grandiosity and depth to the work. The Divine Comedy of Dante, one of the Italy’s best classic over the past 100 years. Inferno, cruel and frightful, Purgatory,astory about the journey to Paradisewith the guide of Beatrice whom he loved, and Paradise that he reached after all the hardship. The 100 chapter epic consists of these three worlds are the central axis of the artist’s ceramic works.
The year 2001, among the past ten years of your career, was an important year that you got recognized for your ability in major exhibitions.
I think I did my best because it was the time when I was about to graduate from my graduate school. (laugh) I got good results in several exhibitions from 2011 to 2012, so I could steadily carry on with my work after graduating.
Please tell us about the motive of starting <La Divina Commedia>, called Dante’s Series.
It was at the startof the ReliefSeries in 2013. I always liked stories which have a strong narration, so I had a great interest in making figurine-like dolls. I think I wasn’t hesitating to mix various objects that can make backgrounds, buildings, and stories for plays while making drama stages and do role plays. Before I dreamed of being a potter, I longed to bean illustrator, and making stories wasnaturally ingrained in me. When I thought that I would like to make my work richer while doing the ReliefSeries, I begin to fully express this while looking at the reliefs placed on the wall in order to easily deliver the story. I felt that if I completed a sculpture like condensing a three-dimensional book, then I could condensea vast narration. The ReliefWorkhad many elements that could make my works more fun. Assuming that I hadspread across seven boards, I constructed seven scenes fromthe story that I wanted to express. It was fun to make something such asthe process of time. And it was fun to make scenes uponscenes.
For most of the day, Artist Yun-Hee Lee concentrates on elaborate works that color and ensoul numerous ceramic objects. Yun-Hee Lee, who works with all her heart even on the girl’s lips and blush, says, ‘If you don’t like this work, you can never do this work.’
Why did you choose <The Divine Comedy> among the numerous literature texts?
Most literature includes the growth of a person. Passing through some ‘course’ such as adversity and hardship is the basis of all stories. Most of the structure of novels I like follow this formula. <The Divine Comedy> of Dante was the most suitable text as it was familiar to foreigners and we also read it when we were children. I also liked <The Divine Comedy> since I was a child. I don’t have a specific religion, but there were many kinds of religious people around me since I was a kid. Ministers, missionaries, monks, etc. My grandfather was a daemokjang(Korean traditional wooden architectural craftsmanship) who built temples, but my grandmother went to a cathedral. I think religious motifs have been familiar to me since I was a kid. I think the journey itself of a girl to find life, death, and the ideal world has to be connected to religion. I also naturally bring lots of motifs from religion and iconography.
I think when you make a story that condense epics, there may be some sort of rules to make frameworks and set sculptures.
I don’t make a whole story exact and in detail. I just work on making a big story like people who meet during the course of their travels. Some people attach the ‘skull’ to death and think it has a strong metaphor, but I think we may just be familiar with it. I saw an exhibition in New York few years ago, I think that experience changed my thoughts a lot. It was the exhibition that made us think about our stereotypes that skulls and worms are not beautiful, it had an effect on me to expand my work more freely.
I think the girl may be you. Is the girl’s face always the same?
The girl with bobbed-hair is the main character. And there are surrounding people. I change other character’s hairstyle, but there is only one main character in my work.
I have many questions about the process of your work. There are really so many different motifs from a finger-size face of a girl and worms to skulls, so how far can the casting go?
Usually, I form with casting and I transform them based on the framework. Because I can’t make a flower by using a cast, I make stems and leaves one by one and I attach each of them individually. Even if the dolls have similar faces, each of their positions are slightly different depending on the work, so I make the action and refine them by bending their arms and legs.
The objects arecasted in hundreds of different types of frames, and their forms are completed by the artist’s hand-carving and manipulatingeach and every one. Things that are too small to make frames of, such as petals or stems have to bemanufacturedand fabricated directly, so she hasto do a lot of work. But this whole process is a joy for her.
When we think about white porcelain, it reminds me of work that stands out for its simplicity and the blank beauty, but your white porcelains are colorful and supremely decorative.
It is beautiful and good to see the normal white porcelain works, but it is not fun for meto work. I like use my hand all the time and decorate. Since they are very fancy, people either love or hate my works. For the most part it is foreigners who mostly recognize them. People who have a clear taste contact me. Once I wanted to give a feeling of oriental landscape in white color. So I once worked with white color on just white porcelain. I also made by mixing glaze. I like the sanctity and splendor of gold. If there are three people, then it feels like the statue of Virgin Mary. The statue of the girl which I never used any color on has a feeling of the Pieta. The half-man and half-beast feels like a griffin, a mythic feeling. Sphinx. I also make a statue of Haetae. I make the lower part out ofstone and I stack up several layers of similar objectsand make it variedtoo. Sometimes, I take them apart and work on until I can make somethingI am satisfied with.
"제가 지금 서른 중반인데 안타깝게도 함께 도자를 공부했던 친구들 중 저만 작가 활동을 하고 있어요.
저 또한 2007년 경에는 잠시 도자를 놓고 장사를 하기도 했고요. 작업을 접어야 하나 고민할 때마다 운명처럼 좋은 컬렉터를 한번씩 만나며 큰 위안을 얻었어요. 영국을 여행하던 한 네덜란드 부부가 제 작품을 여행길에 현장에서 구매해 갔던 것, 월급을 모아 작품을 샀던 젊은 여성 컬렉터 모두 굉장한 감동이었어요."
Among the many crafts, why do you do ceramic works?
Because I like the feeling of ceramics. The works that are called as European ceramics have just like a taste of ceramic, and I prefer those feeling. The ceramics I think of are ‘porcelains’, that is, a work that contains a firm texture. I worked with woodwork and metal, but I like the feeling that cannot be expressed with FRP (fiber reinforced plastic). While studying a lot about ceramics by the particular era, I use the ceramics formsfromthe East and the West inmy work, and look for old ceramics by frequently looking at pattern collection books.
Do you have any favorite artists who influenced your work?
Grayson Perry, the world-class British potter. I once saw his solo exhibition at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa around 2007. I didn’t think much of myselfbeing a full-time artist at the time, but I liked the kitschy feeling in his art.
Appreciation(enjoyment) is the purpose of your work rather than the degree of extreme seriousness produced by thework and reason. Do you have any plans for making ceramics which can be used?
I think it is harder to think of objects to be used. Among things I like simple things and I want ornamental ceramics to befancy. I haven’t yet reached my ideal type I want to do. I think once I make the utopia I want, then I can just rearrange my works.
매거진 <아트마인>에 게재된 기사의 모든 사진과 텍스트는 저작권법에 의해 보호되는 아트마이닝㈜의 저작물입니다.
사전 동의 및 출처 표기 없는 무단 복제 및 전재를 금합니다.
PHOTO © ARTMINING – magazine ARTMINE / 이주연, 이윤희