The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

Mackenzie Manley

“Serenity” by JeeEun Lee explores the surreal landscapes of memory.

Ceramics professor’s ‘Serenity’ a meditative ocean

January 22, 2018

Ripples of blue clay form an aqueous mane around the slight form of a face, pushing through the surface of the watery spiral. Raindrops shaped like ghostly humans fall headfirst into a floating sea of clear plastic. With the help of a lighting fixture, a tiny mountain casts the shadow of a body stretched out like a cadaver.

“Serenity”, an exhibition of sculptures created by NKU ceramics professor JeeEun Lee, exists in a surreal space between states of matter. Transparent puddles of water hover like clouds and bulge like mountains. The same tranquil blues printed on the coffee cup Lee carries with her fleck the gallery with oceanic atmosphere.

“I spent a lot of time in [my native] Korea visiting mountains and bodies of water,” Lee said. “Basically, all of the work is about my memories–previous experiences in my life.”

She gestures toward the clay mountain, the one projecting its morbid shadow–”Temporal Reflection.” It’s somewhat of a self-portrait and highlights the ephemeral qualities of time and experience.The clay is still wet and vulnerable enough to be manipulated by an outside influence.

“I had a really good friend who passed away about seven years ago,” Lee said. “We’d leave the city in search of scenic attractions. He used to say to me: ‘Engrave deep in your heart what you see, what you listen to and what you feel in this moment and never forget.’”

It was this loss that inspired the piece’s alpine shape.She believes that after death, the human spirit becomes one with nature in the intangible way that a shadow emerges from an opaque object.

In her artist’s statement, she quotes experimental filmmaker Bill Viola, who she considers a primary source of inspiration: “There is a moment where light enters you. You don’t really know your are alive before you pinch yourself. Our whole life has to have a little bit of failure and conflict.”

Conveyed through watery forms, the works that comprise “Serenity” all orbit this relationship between body and soul.

This dreamy surrealism is most evident in “Memory,” which is the first sculpture to greet gallery-goers.

In it, ceramic human shapes are suspended upside down, hung from the ceiling. A collection of pancake-shaped plastic molds hang lower, forming  what appears to be a lake. A closer look reveals that each clear disc contains the impression of Lee’s face.

“I wanted to capture rain as an expression of memory through the layers of water,” she said.

A series of wrinkled blue circles hang on the walls to the left and right of “Memory,” each with the shape of a face protruding from its center. Two are made using traditional Korean paper. One is molded out of clay.

The painting’s hypnotic aura is inspired by Yves Klein’s “Yves le Monochrome,” a canvas covered entirely in blue paint. Lee quotes Klein in her statement: “blue is an open window to freedom. As the possibility of being immersed in the immeasurable existence of color.” She blends white into her blue palette to represent meditation, which plays a key role in her creative process.

Lee came to NKU as a lecturer last year, following 6 years of experience at Syracuse University and a master’s degree she earned at EwhaWomen’s University in Seoul, South Korea. During her current tenure, she hopes to further explore the spiritual significance of nature, continuing to sculpt and meditate.


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