Jeewi Lee

Between artistic practice and local context

For his master´s thesis on the influences of local conditions on artistic production in artist residencies, Davood Madadpoor interviewed the artist Jeewi Lee, Villa Romana Fellow 2018, in retrospect on her eleven-month stay in Florence.

Davood Madadpoor is a graduate in Curatorial Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence.

It seems that your residency in Tuscany gave you the feeling of freedom and that the aesthetic of the Renaissance period has awakened a new sensibility in your artistic practice. What is your impression as regards the emergence of a new sensibility?

Firstly, being away from home and my everyday life allowed me a lot of time and freedom. It was a feeling I hadn't had for so long – to consciously perceive time, listening to the clock ticking. This status made me open to many new things, to developing curiosity and to perceiving things for which I otherwise had no time in a busy metropolis like Berlin.
Secondly, the awareness of materials – Something to grip, haptics, surfaces, structures. Working in an art world that becomes more and more conceptual and virtual, it was paradoxically refreshing and enriching for me to encounter a culture that values patina, clings to the past and boasts high sensitivity to colour and surface structure. Although the pride (or even arrogance) of the Italians about their cultural heritage and history was sometimes unpleasant, at the same time for me it was also impressive. This may derive from a very personal aspect, since I deal with traces in my artistic practice and come from a country (South Korea) where the new is better principle prevails and in Germany, the place I’m based, the past is often associated with pain..

Observing Ashes to Ashes, 2019 I feel that your sensibility, your poetics and your awareness of political and cultural attitudes became bolder, what do you think about this?

The combination of the environment (Florence, Tuscany) and the institution, even the isolation from my everyday life and the loneliness or alienation at the beginning of the residency, was a helpful experience and influenced my subsequent works indirectly.
I say indirectly because it’s not something one can see immediately and is clearly visible in my new projects. It was more a changing of my awareness about certain topics. The changes are more subtle and sensitive in developing and will hopefully continue to evolve.
I feel responsible to a degree but not really focused on having a political voice. Personally, what I am more interested in is that my art raises questions and sharpens or inspires people’s perception and awareness.

You mentioned that you "had your most productive time here"; how did it impact your career?

From Villa Romana itself, I learned a lot regarding political issues through the philosophy and concept of the institution. I had many chances during the year to meet new artists, theorists and curators to discuss and exchange views about current political issues. I think this input comes largely from the director of Villa Romana, Angelika Stepken.
Career-wise (I don’t like that word): it was not like, I return to Berlin after my residency and doors were thrown open for me or people were waiting for me with open arms and offering me new chances – not at all. But after almost one year, at the end of 2019, slowly the contacts I made during my residency were getting back to me or curators who were following my projects started to invite me; projects I started from there are growing etc.

How does the absence from the home base entailed by a residency affect the connections with the artistic community at home?

Generally speaking, as an artist sometimes the job of being an artist doesn’t involve only the artwork itself. It automatically includes a social element, like going to openings or showing up on the birthday of a curator who invited you etc. To be away for such a residency is the best excuse for your absence. It doesn’t feel like you’re missing out on something or losing your everyday studio life, because not only do you gain a lot of new encounters and experiences, but you also get to know yourself better.

How do you think about a work of art made by an artist-in-residence? Is it a situated process or is it a nomadic object without a place?

In my case it was half and half. Often I work on site-specific art projects, so there were some works that were situated processes, which is natural for me. But I also did some artworks which are transportable to any other space.
I came to Villa Romana with the knowledge that I had to prepare some exhibitions or series of artworks for other institutions during my stay, so these were created in  a quite nomadic mode.
During my stay in Tuscany I got closer to nature and my interest in historical events was animated, but in my practice there are two really important influences: materiality awareness and poetical mentality. Before that I worked much more rationally, as a result of the biggest difference between Germany and Italy. The German mentality is very rational and I experience the Italian mentality as more poetic and emotional, which I don’t necessarily prefer to the other one, but this was the part that enriched me.
I think I was influenced by the new surroundings – as would happen in any other part in the world too – and this is visible in Incision, 2018, Impianto, 2018 and Ashes to Ashes, 2019.

And the last question, any advice for future fellows?

I would describe the place as holy. I would recommend going there with empty mental and creative luggage, being free and sensitive to what comes your way or what the residency gives you in terms of new perspectives, ideas and perceptions. As well as the city and the region, Tuscany, itself. Even though one can get the feeling that the time at Villa Romana is so calm and quiet, I must say that all the people I met during the residency left a trace in my life and my artistic practice, which I deeply appreciate and opened a lot of new doors for me. Following this personal experience, I would like to recommend to people in general to be open to new encounters and coincidences, because surprises will awaken a new, unknown side of yourself – for which I am very grateful.