The fantastical world of 'Maiden Voyage' by JeeYoung Lee nurtures viewers' memory

For NOW Gallery's 2022 Art Commission, the Korean artist has created an installation, Maiden Voyage, inspired by memories, dreams, emotions, and her personal experience.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Sep 08, 2022

A visit to the gallery space to watch an exhibition at display is an open opportunity to revisit a slice of time overshadowed by the spell of oblivion or spark mindful thinking. In both scenarios, the possibility of arriving at a moment that could reorient the way of looking is not unlikely. The current art exhibition Maiden Voyage by Korean artist JeeYoung Lee at NOW Gallery, London, England, is a journey dotted with memory, introspection and thought to evoke a parallel journey shared by the visual artist and viewers alike. Lee received her BFA in visual communication design from Hongik University and MFA in photography from Hongik Graduate University, Seoul, Korea. She has created installations in major institutions globally and her collaborations with Samsung to Hermès led to unique creations. 

A closer look of origami plane, 2022, Paper, Foamex, Aluminum, Jee Young Lee | Maiden Voyage | STIRworld
A closer look of origami plane, 2022, Paper, Foamex, Aluminium Image: Courtesy of Charles Emerson and Now Gallery

In the current art exhibition Maiden Voyage, Lee has a giant paper boat floating on a sea of golden-yellow Ginkgo leaves. It recreates the fantastical world of autumn made with the large paper fans. The leaves are reminiscent of Lee’s memory of the known neighbourhoods in South Korea. The season as it marks the passage of time for the media artist is worth revisiting. The immersive installation is “emblematic of both individual human memory and the unfathomably deeper memory of our transforming planet.” The origami objects such as boats, planes and swans when lie afloat in the sea of Gingko leaves open the opportunity for the viewers to rediscover the memory, if faded and withered under time. The conspicuous presence of the colour golden-yellow to play with the visual perception of the spaces for Lee serves as a reminder of the yellow wave. In an interview with STIR, she mentions, “Ginkgo leaves are also called living fossils. I thought these leaves are a good medium to tell the theme of 'the passage of time and memories’. I combined this inspiration with my childhood memories. Also, I loved playing the colour yellow for this piece because yellow can represent happiness, positivity, energy, etc.”

Jee Young Lee’s Portrait | Maiden Voyage | STIRworld
Artist Jee Young Lee Image: Courtesy of Charles Emerson and Now Gallery

To visualise the concept and the plan, Lee created 3D simulations of the artwork, detailed designs for each object, and prototypes. She discussed a detailed large-scale installation plan to execute the project with the art gallery based on the 3D simulation. The leaves made of plastic (Foamex) are handcrafted one by one to express the curvy shape. The origami sculptures are made of aluminium. The art installation took two weeks as the mesh frames were installed on the ceiling of the gallery and hung over 400 leaves in the air. Lee gives an explicit walk-through of the installation art and how it speaks to the architecture of NOW Gallery, “When working on the concept, I wanted to harmonise the architecture of NOW Gallery. The gallery has a glass front and seven meters high ceiling. So I thought it would be good to display a hanging installation in this space. The installation looks different depending on the perspective - view from the ground floor, or looking down from the first storey, and from outside the building. For example, on the ground floor, you can feel like you are walking under or following the yellow wave. Looking down from the first floor, it feels like watching a river flowing from the sky. Outside the building in the evening, you can enjoy the whole view of the piece floating in the building through the glass.”

Jee Young Lee, The yellow wave appearance of the installation Maiden Voyage, Paper, Foamex, Aluminium, 2022 | Maiden Voyage | STIRworld
Jee Young Lee, The yellow wave appearance of the installation Maiden Voyage, Paper, Foamex, Aluminium, 2022 Image: Courtesy of Charles Emerson and Now Gallery

The earliest memory of such a landscape for Lee is marked with both sensorial pleasure of the natural beauty as well as the “emotional burden of shame”. Once visiting a family relative in the countryside, Lee was caught by the abundance of natural beauty. But unknowingly she ruined the field while playing amongst the waving stems. The immersive experience around the exhibition does not intently override the viewers’ experience with the purpose of the artist. Rather it anchors the audience towards the installation in an effort to contemplate his or her memories. Moreover, as part of the exhibition space, the observers are encouraged to pen down a memory on a piece of origami paper and fold it into a swan. This collection flourishes leaps and bounds during the course of the immersive exhibition. “My works are reconstructions of my psychological landscape. It is inspired by memories, moments in life, personal experiences, dreams, emotions, and internal turmoil. When I do an installation, I recreate my mental landscape in the real world and share that experience with the visitors. When they visit this space, they become a part of the work too. In this way, I think I invite them directly into my inner world. That is why immersiveness is an important factor in my work to communicate with the audience,” elucidates Lee.

Jee Young Lee, Origami objects of the installation Maiden Voyage Paper, Foamex, Aluminium, 2022 | Maiden Voyage | STIRworld
Jee Young Lee, Origami objects of the installation Maiden Voyage, Paper, Foamex, Aluminium, 2022 Image: Courtesy of Charles Emerson and Now Gallery

In times, when the memory is reduced to the algorithm of the internet - the bubble encapsulates the pictures and video and set reminder of memory are automated – the flow of time is reduced to the speed of technology and bytes of storage. Against such proliferating white noise, Lee concludes, “Maiden Voyage is about continuing to navigate to different destinations while creating new memories and experiences. This work is also about where our lives will go and how they will change. Ultimately, I hope the audience discovers a story of their own through the work. I want them to have a special moment.” 

JeeYoung Lee, Installation anchors immersive experience, Paper, Foamex, Aluminum, 2022 | Maiden Voyage | STIRworld
JeeYoung Lee, Installation anchors immersive experience, Paper, Foamex, Aluminium, 2022 Image: Courtesy of Charles Emerson and Now Gallery
Maiden Voyage by JeeYoung Lee, 2022 Video: Carlos Jimenez, and Courtesy of Now Gallery

The exhibition Maiden Voyage is on view at NOW Gallery, London, United Kingdom until September 25, 2022. UK

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