By Kate Vogel
Mason Time staff writer
Mason resident Jae Won Lee, was among one of the 1,582 artists who had their work displayed and judged during the third annual ArtPrize art competition hosted in Grand Rapids, Mich. Lee, an associate professor of art and art history at Michigan State University, currently has a piece of art entitled Sleepwalking Around the Peach Garden on display at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park as part of a sculpture exhibition that coincided with ArtPrize. Out of the 1,582 artists who entered this year, Lee’s sculpture placed in the top 25.
Lee’s artwork was inspired by a famous Korean landscape painting of the same title Sleepwalking Around the Peach Garden— translated from Mongyudowondo— that was painted in the fourteenth century Choson Dynasty.
“[The painting] depicted the peach garden surrounded by rugged mountains,” Lee said. “It’s a paradise— utopia— that these people in ancient Korea envisioned. The rugged mountains are our harsh reality but in the midst there is this peach garden.”
In her recreation of the painting, Lee used colored recycled paper from the Kresge Art Center at Michigan State University, silk threads from Korea and tape to depict this utopia. The artwork is hung from the ceiling at Frederik Meijer Gardens by the silk threads that are attached to the recycled paper cut into heart-shaped peaches.
“I said to myself, I’m going to make this peach garden,” Lee said. “I’m going to give life to this recyclable material…I want to give a second chance to this paper. I’m going to hang it to represent this otherworldly scene and I want people to walk around it, lay underneath, so hanging was my strategy to display these peaches.”
Laurene Grunwald, Director of Sculpture, Exhibitions and Installations at Frederik Meijer Gardens, was one of the four people who selected Lee’s sculpture and other artwork for the sculpture exhibition.
“This work by Jae Won Lee has many layers of meaning and beauty,” Grunwald said. “This installation is made of only thread and paper but has a full presence in the space with the varying heights, densities and sizes of these groups of peaches that are reminiscent of trees in an orchard or garden. Each element shows the great care that was taken to form the work and hang the installation in the given space.”
Lee moved to Mason, Mich. in 2000 when she accepted a job offer at Michigan State University. Transitioning to Michigan weather conditions, Lee said, was challenging but provided a source of inspiration for her art.
“I call Mason home,” Lee said. “Winter is hard but a lot of my reflections and works are done in Mason and after a while I can see the beautiful wintry land in Mason. I like to drive around to see more of the flat land and endless green fields… The cycling and recycling aspect of nature (and farming) are my reflections from my home.”
Mason was not always “home” to Lee, as she was born and raised in Korea. The young Jae Won Lee said that she was expected to follow the Korean academic route of mathematics, literature or history. In Korea, only art majors are allowed to take art classes and it wasn’t until she moved to Los Angeles at the age of 24 that she said she was allowed to take art classes as an elective. This was the point in time when Lee said her passion for art began.
“Art is something about me,” Lee said. “It’s about expressing myself, my life, my dilemmas, joy, happiness, unhappy situations. It’s about communication to convey how I think about life, what I pursue in life, what I see in you and then maybe eventually how I connect to you.”
Early this year, Frederick Meijer Gardens invited Lee to place her artwork in a sculpture exhibition titled Sculpture Today: New Forces New Forms, an exhibition that that coincided with the 2011 ArtPrize competition.
“It looked very exiting for me to redefine what sculpture is— contemporary sculpture scenes,” Lee said. “I was honored to be invited so I agreed to do it. It’s exciting; all these people go round and look at this art on many levels many degrees and then they vote… That kind of excitement and enthusiasms are wonderful.”
Lee has traveled the world and had her art showcased from Berlin to California to South Africa, but Lee says that ArtPrize was a unique experience.
“I’m very private and personal so my work reflects that,” Lee said. “I often question who my audience is… I went to the opening reception (for the ArtPrize exhibition) and there were so many people… It was a worthwhile opportunity for me. It was interesting to see all these visitors and meeting people who show excitement and enthusiasm for my work.”
Lee’s work is will be on display at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich. through Dec. 31, 2011.