Stage of Mind by Jee Young Lee

Korean artist Jee Young Lee creates highly elaborate scenes without any digital manipulation.


Inspired by the Story of Shim Cheong, a Korea folktale as well as by Shakespeare’s Ophelia, Lee JeeYoung made this installation by painting paper lotus and flooding the room with fog and carbonic ice in order to create a mystic atmosphere.

Lotus flowers grow from the impure mud to reach for the light and bloom to the rise and fall of the sun; in Asia, it bears various cultural symbolisms such as prospects and rebirth. It is also known for its purifying function. The presence of the artist in the heart of such flower is meant to convey her personal experience. “I was born again by overcoming negative elements that had dragged me down and cleansed myself emotionally. The figure within a lotus blooming implies a stronger self who was just born again and is facing a new world”. It is this is very moment when one reaches maturity and full-potential that Lee illustrates in “Resurrection”, and, more generally speaking, throughout the entirety of her corpus.

The young Korean artist works for weeks and sometimes months, transforming her small studio, measuring just 360 x 410 x 240 cm (approximately 12 x 13 x 8 feet), into these incredible sets inspired by events from her life or Korean fables, using styrofoam, cardboard and paint.


She worked with a master fan-maker to build a forestscape, inverting the Joseon Dynasty tradition of painting landscapes onto fans. The “dark and ever changing nature of night" inside a forest, she writes, reminds her of human nature.

After photographs the scene, she dismantles her work and starts all over.

Panic Room

Contrasting with Lee’s legend- and literature-inspired moral messages, Panic Room is also based on the artist’s childhood memories. Amidst Panic Room’s swirling patterns, objects fly off in all directions in an absurd dizziness.

In each image you can find Lee’s figure hidden in the middle of the carefully constructed set-like pieces.

I’ll Be Back

This piece is based upon a Korean fable in which a tiger chases desperate children into a well. A god lowered a rope from the sky by which the child escaped, but when the tiger cried out for help, a rotten rope was lowered, condemning the tiger to a miserable fate. Painted traditional fans are meticulously arranged as a whirlpool, while a hand emerges from its eye to grab a rope hanging down from above; hope can save oneself from even what can appear as the most desperate situation.

"The primary motifs in this series derive from my questions about who I am at the moment."

Last Supper

Last Supper conflates the Christian image of the meal that foreshadows Jesus’ impending demise with the competition for limited resources illustrated by hundreds of rats racing toward the table from which the artist appears to be rescuing a plate of cheese.

"It is a photographic elucidation of my concerns about my identity, exploration about myself and search for the things that I am capable of doing, desire to do, enjoy doing and can do well, and furthermore, my thoughts on how I should live my life."

Broken Heart

Broken Heart makes visual the Korean expression “like breaking a stone with an egg” – an ineffectual effort against insurmountable adversity.

"I try to search for the answers to my questions and concerns through the process of photographing and the subsequent artwork. I am neither too young nor old enough, grown up but not fully formed like the fully grown but unripe fruit, and still under metamorphosis."

Black Birds

As Hyewon Yi, Director and Curator of Amelie A. Wallace Gallery states, "Drawing upon prodigious powers of imagination, she labors for months to create effects that seem to expand and contract physical space. And always, a lone figure inhabits and completes her narratives. Jee Young Lee assumes the roles of set designer, sculptor, performer, installation artist, and photographer – and she executes them all magically."

"I am an adult but cannot be categorised as an adult in entirety. I am an incomplete being who is not entirely independent. The main subject in my work is to reflect myself as a member of the society and as an individual who influences and is influenced by the surroundings in it."

My Chemical Romance

Many pipe lines crawl on the building walls of the artist’s neighborhood in Mangwondong (Seoul). Forming checkered and intertwined structures, rather than being merely straight, pipes creep up the exterior of a building and connect each space within it; whether for gas or water, they play a delivering-in-and-out role and function as a sort of passageway. From this angle, they appear to the artist as elements of nervousness and danger which she associates with social interactions and communication. Complicatedly intertwined, much like a maze or obstacles in a hurdle race, they remind her of the potential misunderstanding, anxiety or disappointment to which misunderstandings can lead to. The difficulty of such interactions is highlighted by the black and yellow PVC pipes, usually inherent to danger warnings in industrial sites or traffic and road signs. In addition, steam generated by a fog machine connected to the pipes symbolizes the moment of conflict and clash in relationships and communication.

A black dog slowly walking out of the frame in this autobiographic piece indicates a specific person who inflicted pain onto the artist. Or, as she suggests, it may represent others in general as opposed to the woman in the back, who is the artist herself.

"Therefore, through my work, I strive to complete myself by reflecting myself and to objectify my current status and situations by creating sceneries of them."

Treasure Hunt

Treasure Hunt is based on the artist’s childhood memories. Lee devoted three months to crafting the lush multitude of wire leaves – it evokes a child-like wonderland.

"My work, in essence, records my concerns and process of growing up. It narrates and dramatises my life stories."


"In my work, I reconstruct my feelings and situations in relation to the society. The background sets and symbolic props and objects in them are to reenact the scenes in a metaphorical way. The set is 360x600x240cm in dimension and I recreate it as a narrative space by painting it and filling it with hand-made objects myself."


"By building the space with my personal, psychological experiences in everyday life, I try to visualize my inner world of which the meanings cannot be value-judged."

Sweet Appetite

This is Not Enough




All images are © Copyright of Jee Young Lee, courtesy of OPIOM Gallery

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