Don't panic: These fantasy worlds will make you squirm

Story highlights

  • Korean artist Jeeyoung Lee uses her dreams, memories, and emotions as inspiration to build fantasy worlds
  • Each image, created without digital alterations, takes between two to three months to produce

(CNN)Korean artist Jeeyoung Lee creates three-dimensional fantasy worlds.

With her background in visual design and photography, Lee captures her dreams, experiences, memories and emotions by building elaborate sets for her ongoing self-portrait series "Stage of Mind."
    In one of her latest works, "La Vie en Rose," Lee drew inspiration from a Korean proverb, "Life is a thorny path," and sculpted thorns made out of resin and plaster to represent life's countless hardships.
    "Pretty much anything surrounding me can become a source of inspiration," Lee tells CNN.
    "La Vie en Rose"
    Lee photographs herself as a character in each set and then records their destruction using video. "I could have used other models, but I find it more suitable to model myself since my work is very biographical. It reflects my identity and my life." Her creations are cathartic, a way to remember and meditate.
    Each installation takes Lee between two to three months to produce — from buying supplies to setting up lights — and the cost of each set varies from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Lee works completely solo and her photos are free of digital manipulations.
    "This entire process is an act of discipline and training. I wouldn't be able to experience these emotions through Photoshop."
    Her newest images, which were recently exhibited at the Gallery GO in Korea. Below, Lee discusses her work with CNN Style.
    CNN: Why did you choose to create "a room" to capture your thoughts and memories?
    Lee: When we visit someone else's room, we can guess a lot about that person. A room is an enclosed and private space and my work is about creating a space that represents my psychological state of mind. So I thought characteristics of a room would be suitable.
    CNN: Does being Korean influence your work in anyway?
    Lee: I guess there would be a subconscious cultural element, since the environment that a person grows up in affects his or her identity. Some of my previous works, such as "Nightscape", "Resurrection" and "Treasure Hunt" depict the Korean landscape that I saw growing up.
    "Nightscape"
    Lotus flowers in the "Resurrection" and flower petals in "Loveseek" are made of colored Hanji, a traditional handmade paper from Korea.
    CNN: Why do you favor creating real scenes, as opposed to creating them using software programs like Photoshop?
    Lee: The fact that I'm reflecting on real events and emotions that I've experienced makes my work real. On the other hand, the fact that the scenes I am creating only exist in my head makes it surreal.
    I am creating installations to bring my thoughts into the real world, and taking photos of them to capture a part of my life and reminisce that moment.
    "The Destruction of Desire"
    By destructing the scene at the end, I'm putting the moment back in the past, where it belongs. This entire, emotional process is an act of discipline and training for me. I wouldn't be able to experience this through Photoshop.
    CNN: Your gaze is always fixed away from the camera in your photos. Why is that?
    Lee: I want people to look at the entire scene, not just the model. Also, by not revealing particular facial expressions, it becomes an indirect expression of my emotions and allows for a wider interpretation of my work. Even though I am a protagonist in my work, I want the person to appear as one of the objects in the picture.
    CNN: What is most challenging about realizing your work?
    Lee: My installation is a very labor-focused work. So it's physically hard, and eventually it's a battle with myself. Sometimes traumatic memories I have with the story I'm recreating disturbs me.
    CNN: Tell us about your most memorable project.
    Lee: "Anxiety" means a lot to me. It was a very experimental work. I consider the entire process of building a set, taking a photograph, and destroying it, as my work. In most cases, the photograph is the final result, but for "Anxiety," I exhibited two photographs and a video.
    "Anxiety"
    This work addresses common worries, insecurity, and doubts that we go through in our everyday lives.
    In it, a performer makes a strange noise and I've cut the sound of the phrase "it's okay" per syllable, and she reads them as if she's singing. It sounds very disturbing, but since the work deals with concerns and insecurity, I wanted to deliver those feelings to the audience more directly.
    CNN: What is your dream project that you hope to work on?
    Lee: I have a lot of projects that I'd like to work on. Since I'm creating different sets inside the studio, there definitely are spatial limitations and there are limitations to the kind of light I can use. I want to work in a really large space, so large that a person will appear as small as a dot. I also want to try building an installation in the back of a truck and move around like a traveling theater.