Our most recent visit features artist Inhye Lee in conversation with Anna Blumberg at her studio at the Staten Island MakerSpace during a five-month-long residency. Lee uses 3D printing and other digital design technologies to create interactive artworks that evoke memories from the past and explore the underlying connections between individuals. Through these unconventional methods of portraiture, Lee examines genetic lineage and the ties that bind human relationships in a way that she hopes brings humor and joy to viewers.
AB: How did you become involved with SOHO20?
IL: Jenn Dierdorf, then the director of SOHO20, introduced me to the gallery in 2011. I had never been part of a cooperative gallery, a feminist gallery, or a gallery in general before then, though I had shown my work at some galleries and participated in public art projects. I liked that I could be part of an artist community and get to exhibit on a regular basis. It’s very difficult for me to work without a deadline, so joining the gallery encouraged me to work more as an artist.
AB: Can you describe the context of your recent residency at MakerSpace and the project(s) you have been working on?
IL: I was very lucky to receive a residency at the Staten Island MakerSpace this year. Staten Island Makerspace is a non-profit organization and community that offers STEAM education and access to the fabrication facility (metal shop, woodshop, 3D printer, laser cutter, etc.). The residency program is part of their efforts to give opportunities to makers, artists, and local startups. I recently finished the residency that ran about five months. I was given the studio space and access to their workshop and met some great people too. The people who run the space started it when Hurricane Sandy hit Staten Island. Their shop (originally a metal shop) was flooded, and they lost a considerable amount of their resources. This experience changed their perspective on life and work, and they decided to do something that could help the community. They are artists, makers, and community organizers, and just great people. There is kind of a laid-back and good community vibe there. I’ve met a war veteran who served in Korea in the 50s, high school entrepreneurs, metal artists, and many more. If I ever get to run a makerspace myself, they’ll be my role models.
For my Accordion Mask project, I made a prototype of a wearable accordion mask, a part of which was created during a one-week residency at Signal Culture in Owego, New York. It’s a continuation of my previous work, Accordion Face. For my Family Tree project, I created lenticular prints and a small flip-book with the Packer-Bialik family. For another project, TypoBlok, I tested the concept of a magnetic cube toy that lets people create different typefaces based on an idea I had in 2007. This was my first attempt at using 3D printing.
AB: What are your interests in these projects, why are they important?
IL: The Family Tree project is a visualization of the lineage of family members. You sometimes see a photo of a newborn baby and find out that she/he strongly resembles her/his grandmother––mother/daughter, father/son, sisters/brothers more commonly. The genetic connection is so magical. Not surprisingly, there have been quite a few (photography) projects that are based on family resemblance by comparing family members’ faces. Most notably, one I found is Ulric Collette’s genetic portraits.
To show the family members’ connections visually, I used children’s book formats (die-cut book and a flipbook) and a lenticular printing method. This is another project with the same concept, and I followed the Packer-Bialik family this time, a Jewish family based in New York. I gathered their extended family’s photos as well from their family albums, but I didn’t include all their images in this production yet. In the lenticular prints, you can compare the paired faces of mother/daughter, father/son, etc. together, and you can possibly get a glimpse into how the younger ones’ futures will look. For this family, I also created a flipbook where you can follow the daughter-mother-son-father’s connection in a series. For the previous family (Kim-Choe, a Korean family based in Korea and New Jersey), I used a book with a hole format so that you can see a mother’s eye in part of a daughter’s face, etc. Before working on this project, I made a portrait book that connects people’s emotions through a hole on a page. One could say it’s conceptually connected to this previous work as well. In the end, we humans are all somehow connected.
These are also all very familiar objects from my childhood, and I’m sure a lot of people have fond memories of them too. Objects from the past have become a great vehicle for me to convey ideas and have influenced me a lot. I hope to get more inspiration from the past and from our lives in general.
AB: What drew you to this medium?
IL: I usually say that I am an interactive artist. I use a computer (design, coding, hardware electronic circuit design, video, or sound) to make my work or to display it. My work is interactive, more because it needs people’s participation to be finalized.
I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do if I hadn’t gone to the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU for graduate school. There, I was exposed to programming (coding), design, physical computing (hardware circuit design), and many more disciplines and ideas. The program had people from many different backgrounds, and I felt that this field (interactive art, (new) media art) allowed me to combine different interests I had at different points in my life. I was able to combine my interests in music, the moving image, performance art, storytelling, humor, and also math, to some extent, and somehow create (or attempt to create) a new expression. Also, I got to know that I could always learn from other fields, disciplines, or modes of thought.
AB: What is your main focus in your work?
IL: Conceptually, I’m interested in finding the missing links between different points in the world. When I find the connection between previously random points, that excites me. Then, I’d like to convey ideas using adequate expressions and methods for each occasion.
In my artist statement, I say that “I try to transform the ordinary surroundings into a playground where interesting stories arise.” And, in a way, I do what I do because I want to have fun, and I want to share it with other people and make them laugh. That’s what kids do every single day, and I’d like to do that too.
I really hope that in the following years, I will do more work with other people and find meanings and somehow contribute to humankind’s happiness. Maybe I will make fresh orange juice and sell it on the street on a really hot day. I like to have more straight and direct feedback from the world like that.