Dreaming Unfamiliar Scene 

Hye-Jung Kang (Photo Critic)


Helen Chung Lee's photos bring to a world of abstract images by adding imagination and poetic sensibility to the existing beauty of elements in nature. She creates beauty by using natural properties of various objects: the shapes, colors, and textures, which already exist. She deeply understands the aesthetic value of the matter and therefore can create a dreamy, sometimes vague atmosphere in her pieces. She has a rare ability to see the aesthetic value in ordinary objects, from her unique desire to see sensibility and freedom in the artistic world. Here, a photo attempts to reach a new level of existence, escaping from the illusion of reality. To the artist, the medium of photos is not a product of reality plus fiction, but the product that transcends time and space to reach a new level of existence. For Helen Chung Lee, photos offer the opportunity to surpass the obvious and dwell between existence and non-existence. The artist’s images express imagination, romance, or dream, contrary to the original atmosphere of the objects. Therefore, her photos are more pictorial than photo-like; they appear to be landscape photos, but they occur in an unrealistic atmosphere.


Helen Chung Lee enjoys the subtle change in ordinary objects, such as abalone shells, and in turn, transforms the image, giving it a mysterious and vague appearance. In the abalone shell that is used as the major material of mother-of-pearl, there are strong and radiant colors that reflected, depending on the wavelength of light. The unique patterns of abalone shells are often used for traditional, decorative furnishings. She prefers the abalone shells because she has experienced the profound phenomena found in mother-of-pearl furniture. She creates this fascinating world by observing the images hidden in abalone shells, and then she showcases them to display a new meaning in the transformed and distorted images. That is, depending on the changes in the viewpoint of an object, such as angle, location, height, and distance, the shapes become different in our perception. The unrealistic image that is created through this process allows us to depart to a secret world, opposite of reality, where the artist desires to draw the viewer into her interpretation of a dream. Her works expose unrealistic colors, to attract a feeling of unfamiliar uneasiness, instead of calmness. The mother-of-pearl colors of abalone shells possess mysterious, abstract, and metaphysical energy. The fierce, provocative, romantic, dreamlike, and fantastic atmosphere of energy sometimes contradicts itself, as it changes to become a landscape painting. In addition, Helen Chung Lee gives a poetic and romantic title to each work, similar to her previous collection, "Dreamscape." Each title encompasses the artist's internal desire to create a fictional world. That is, in order to supplement the structural shortage of imperfect reality, the artist hopes to recreate her dreams in the titles of her works, such as <Pearl of Twilight>, <Under the Moonlight>, <Pit-A-Pat>, <Refreshing>, and <Peace of Mind>. Her method of giving identity to each piece reduces the realistic estrangement that can exist between the works and their titles and therefore diminishes the separation between a phenomenon and reality.


In Helen Chung Lee's works, her sensible search of objects is freely exposed in the abstract form through the meeting between photos and paintings that is, between media and materials. A photo is both the artist’s tool for discovering the phenomena of the natural world and the means of recognizing the perceptible changes of objects. Her canvas is the place to change a world filled with imperfection into a dreaming space. The image created through the mixture of the two media is the fiction that is realized differently from reality, and it is the only space where the artist can recover her individual experience. Her very complicated and particular strategy is called, 'Mixture of Senses'. The special features and the restricted size of Lazertran make a perfect form, only after a process of transferring the printed photographic image to the surface of canvas repeatedly. That is the landscape on a canvas that is made by pasting numerous photos. She uses acrylic paints and delicate brush touches to make the dyes melt into the printing paper. Each photo is so settled on the canvas, making it impossible to tell reality from the newly created reality without taking a calculated look. For her, this technique of photo-painting is the contents and the form of a work, which traditional techniques fail to achieve. Therefore, the artist doesn't hesitate to show the special structure of the photo-painting medium. The physical structure of works makes a vague boundary between photos and paintings, and it has the appearance of a pictorial landscape, rather than a photo. For Helen Chung Lee, photo-painting is certainly the means for photos to compose a different reality, and therefore transforms the self-directive structure of photos. Therein lies the uniqueness of Helen Chung Lee's work.