The Fantasy of Anima - The World of Found Images

Ok Saeng Park (Art Critic, Curator of Hanwon Art Museum)


1. The Fantasy of Found Images and Landscapes


Helen Chung Lee collects natural shapes from coincidental objects. She focuses on the parts of nature that clearly show layers of time, such as the smooth and shiny inside of abalone shells. In this small object, she finds the landscape of an expanded world. A one-time photography major, Helen takes photographs of the colorful and mysterious landscapes she discovers in abalone shells and converts them into paintings. She prints the photographs on photographic paper called Lazertran that is peeled off underwater. The peeled images are carefully transferred onto a canvas. The transferred images are glued by a gel medium and converted into permanent paintings with the application of acrylic paint. In this process, the landscapes of close-up objects become an unknown world filled with the movement of time, and also the combined qualities of reality and surrealism, such as eternity and dreams. This world resembles a space in reality with mountains, water, and people, but it is more serene and immersed. In her created world, she reveals the entirety of nature through a small part of the abalone shell and shows the time and space of a daydreamer where the past, present, and future of nature exist with dreams.


Through this arduous task of transferring photographs onto canvas, the artist lets you know that she is fascinated by the images she has found. This can be seen in her Hide & Seek - Wood Series. The annual rings of a bent tree resemble landscapes populated by people, animals, and nature. These landscapes seem to exist in reality, but they have the mysteriousness and subtlety of abstract concepts. The artist captures the world with the images of objects that record the accumulation of time, such as trees and abalone, and transfers her stories to the canvas, to convert them into lively moments like scenes from a dramatic movie. It could be wavy seas, swirling waters, or diffused light. The images of abalone remind you of water and the sea, because abalone has grown over a long time in the sea, and embraces its many faces. However, the way she has focused on the smooth and dim patterns of abalone seems to be related to her subconscious. As the inside of abalone shells is mother-of-pearl, which is used to ornament furniture, its attractive variation of color is noteworthy, but one should also focus on the fact that abalone grows hard and beautiful pearls.


It is possible that the artist saw her mother's life, sacrifice, and love in the shape, color, and life of abalone on the subconscious level. Also, one cannot deny the possibility that there is an indelible image of water within her that she has acquired through the life of her mother. Therefore, the images captured from a found object are logically created in her subconscious. Her daydreams about abalone and water are from a part of her mother's life and devoted maternal instinct, and their maximized expressions expand into the world of water and the sea. While transferring photographs to paintings, she might actually be validating her internal desire for her mother's warmth and comfort by expanding these small objects that she discovers into an amplified world. The artist might be dreaming of and longing for the Anima (the maternal instinct of mother) that is inevitable in coincidence.


2. From Photography to Painting, from Reality to Surrealism


It seems that the artist uses the Lazertran method of transferring the images, which are filled with irregular curves, to the paintings in an attempt to remember her moments forever and to transcend reality. Photography has constantly threatened painting with the value of presence, but painting that captures the moments of presence through the process of drawing with brushes and paints shows a world that has been expanded to the time of eternity. In fact, the artist's method of creation shows the expansion of imagination that is born in the process of converting photography into painting and presence into absence. In the expanded zone that makes the records of presence ambiguous, the fact of presence is diluted and the daydream of surrealism rises from the absence.


Geometric curves exist in her expanded paintings. The phenomenologist named Gaston Bachelard says that geometric shapes contain the value of dreams. The irregular curves convert reality into surrealism and need to be expanded to transcend reality. The expanded images, which the artist breaks down into pieces, and glues onto canvas, show the awe and sublimity of nature that is overpowering beyond the images’ original size. In the serene or agitating shapes, the daydream is realized: to expand reality to surrealism and micro-world to the macro-world. In fact, transferring photographs into paintings could be seen as a method of transcendence, but in this case, the artist seems to reach and experience, in the images of Anima, the moments she achieves through the process of creation. These moments represent the condition of immersion where the inspiration of creation bursts, and the point where she meets God under the ecstasy of Dionysos. Therefore, her compositions seem to contain the breath of spirits from deep inside. It could be that Helen Chung Lee's world of art is a process of discovering images that contain moments of immersed aesthetic contemplation and incarnating the found images from moments into eternity. Perhaps she has seen the time and space of the moment of immersion, the moment God rises, in the old annual rings of curved trees and in the prints of sparkling water and winds carved inside abalone shells.


The found images exist in the world of expanded dreams of unreality or of surrealism based on reality, in the world of deeply immanent essence, and in the moment and place where the pure and original time and space open. The aesthetician named Richard Harmann said that perception isolates and concentrates, so it is never left on the surface of a target but sees through it, into its essence, to pursue the heart of nature. An artist immerses and expands himself/herself by meeting the heart of nature to free himself/herself into the infinity.


The artist's creations visualize the pure shapes and freedom of an infinite world where God exists and time breathes for the comfort of humankind, passing through its essence. This resembles the overpowering sublimity of nature that you experience in the expanded landscape and opens the door to a secret world that shows the beauty of infinity and the flow of agitated time. The mystery is amplified by the confrontation of the smoothness and whimsical colors of abalone. This is probably why you experience the warm and dramatic impression that touches your heart with Helen Chung Lee's work. What you could expect to see in the future would be variations of the expanded world created as the artist converts the images discovered in the small objects of the infinite world into paintings.