Capturing the personal moments that may otherwise be forgotten and overlooked is the focus of Toronto-based illustrator Hae Jung Lee’s portrait based work. Lee produces exquisitely rendered fragments of faces, which are framed by and often interact with surreal elements such as mushrooms, bunting, and sewing needles. These surreal elements are Lee’s way of capturing the subject’s thoughts and feelings in as much detail as their eyelashes, so that her highly constructed offer the audience a realistic view of their exterior as well as an allegorical look at their interior. Lee’s work is an archive of the most intimate kind, as she works almost exclusively with images of herself, depicting her own “fragments of memories, moments within time, or internal struggles”. Each of her works is a snapshot of a past, and sometimes present, self.
By interpreting it that way [artistically], my suffering has a purpose and I am, in turn, able to cope better with it, if that makes any sense at all.
However, Lee’s work not only acts as personal journal, but also a means of questioning the way we remember things. For me, this can be seen in the looping, almost melting, edges of the portraits suggest both the fabric of memory and the way the realistic elements of our thoughts bleed into the more abstract. Additionally, Lee’s selection of visual mementos become curioser and curioser as we are allowed to delve into the rabbit hole of her psyche, raising questions of what it is we remember and why those things linger in our minds.
Lee’s archive differs from the form of a blog and the cultural phenomenon of the selfie, not only in its considered aesthetic value but also it’s purpose. Due to the symbolic nature of Lee’s work, the hermeneutic process the audience has to undertake means that the portrait becomes an image of the viewer as well as the artist. In Lee’s own words her “works are presented to the viewers in hope of evoking their own life’s details and find beauty in the little details that make up who they are”. This quest to connect with her audience and to prompt them into accessing their own archive of the elements of themselves that “otherwise may be forgotten through time” has led to Lee’s use of, and subsequent popularity on, social media as the most efficient tool we have today to reach out to a vast array of people on a global scale.
I hold a significant value in the interaction between my work and the viewer within my artistic practice so internet helps me tremendously by connecting my work with so many people all around the world.