Between Nature or Human, or the Real and Surreal

Baek Young Je (Professor of Dong Myung University, Esthetics)


Humans dream of two kinds of dreams. One kind comes when the subconscious activates a dream during sleep. The other is the possibility of the realization of being through consciousness. The commonality between the two is that neither is reality. The dreamy image that Helen Chung Lee shows through her work is based on an image that begins in nature and is captured by the artist's view. Yet through the process of being connected to images that have been saved in memory, the image is reinterpreted in a level above consciousness. It is entering the fray of imagination. The mysterious color and form of the slippery inner side of an abalone shell is an image of nature that has been formed over millions of years. Yet by capturing various images there, the artist decides the motive of the piece. Although the material is brought from the mysterious color and form inside the shell, what the artist is trying to show us is a world of fantasy and mental pleasure. It is like a Utopia. Through the 'Dreamscape' series, which began in 2008, the artist has been displaying an original world of art-work through her unique method of sculpture.


The original images were photographed from a tight angle. They show well the original form of natural scenery from the perspective of an innocent eye, and the artist's huge imagination. Although it may be a coincidence that these become the space of a Dreamscape or surrealism, as we can see from the title of pieces such as 'Paradise Blue,' 'The Dream of the Green Moonlight,' 'The Temptation of the Sea,' and 'The Dreamy Forest,' they are not completely strange to us. They are similar images, at one point perceived or experienced in reality. Thus between the real and fantasy, the work of the author is related to the artist's expression, crossing the boundaries of conscious and subconscious. Even the artist herself says that in the process of constantly creating new images, by finding and reinterpreting, she gets the feeling of playing hide-and-seek between herself and the subject.


The connection between the original image captured by the photograph and the finished artwork is given by a stimulating process, due to the similarity of their form. However, the small difference between the two which is made by the intervention of the artist is exactly the same amount of difference between nature and humans. Of course, the human being has a biological identity, called nature, upon that basis. But the mental process of humans to give meaning expands their horizon of being by inserting various emotions. The prospect of achieving the realization of being is in the artists' work. Therefore the artist's world of art, like the melody, harmony, and rhythm of a fantastic symphony, gets intervened by meaning and the artist's artistic consciousness. In this way, it moves from a natural and biological dimension to an artistic dimension, which includes the ideology of freedom.


The method of printing the original image on photographic paper through lazertran and then coloring it in on canvas is the same for all the pieces in the Dreamscape series. Also, the title theme of the observer’s mind observing natural sceneries such as the sea, waves, mountain, cloud, moon, dream, joy, peace, and excitement, is continued throughout the series. If there have been discrepancies, one could say that the scale of the more recent works has been bigger. When compared to the earlier pieces that focused on blue and purple, the colors have become more varied and clearer. Just as viewing a movie on TV is different from viewing a movie at the cinema, the image of dreams and their sceneries in Helen's works require a large-scale screen. Due to that size, the observer facing the artwork becomes inspiringly focused on a fantasy world of art that is cut-off from reality.


What is the meaning of fantasy to Helen? What is she trying to show the observers? Although getting a specific imagination from a specific beauty in nature begins with a feeling, it is a total act of consciousness. It is the result of a totally conscious process, which includes subconsciousness, memories of self, needs, hopes, will, and passion. Our present age is losing so much affinity with nature. It is difficult to find stars on the skies of the canvas, and therefore our children today do not realize that the stars in the night sky fill the hemisphere with no room to spare. In the following memo by the artist, we can take a peek into what she is striving for and what she is trying to express as an artist.


"My work begins with my wish to make people dream various dreams even from trivial objects that go largely unnoticed by people, and by giving them a different meaning, make people encounter them."