Interview: Jae Hoon Lee

Applications will soon open for the next round of Asia New Zealand artist residencies. We have taken the opportunity to speak with some of the past recipients, to hear about their experiences on the programme. This week we spoke to Jae Hoon Lee about his 2014 Indonesian residency.

What drew you to the Indonesian residency when applying?

When I was thinking about applying for a residency through the Asia New Zealand Foundation, my main interest was going to India or Indonesia, because I personally felt more attached to these two countries. I wanted to breathe and absorb these fairly new cultural and historical wonderlands. Having already touched my feet on Indian territory, my final decision was to aim for the three month residency at Cemeti Art House in Indonesia.

Where in Indonesia was the residency based?

Yogyakarta which is located in Java Island. It is a cultural mecca of art and music with a long history, as well as growing and expanding with a fashionable mixture between traditional and contemporary style. There are many number of residency houses spread out all around Yogyakarta, widely open to international artists from all over the world. There were a lot of Australian and European artists during my time.

Yogyakarta became the forefront of Indonesian contemporary art scene as well as including many historical and cultural heritage sites and treasures. Especially, I was impressed by Gamelan music, traditional dance performance and puppetry. I felt lucky as I often bumped into these wonderful performers on the street by chance and I enjoyed recording and capturing them in video or photograph.

Did the change of environment effect/influence/change your work in any way?

There was the volcanic eruption of Mt Kelud on February 14, 2014 which was two weeks before I went to Indonesia. Mt Kelud is located two hundred kilometers east from Yogyakarta. When I have arrived there, I witnessed hundreds piles of sag of volcanic ash on every street corner. One of my Indonesian friends told me “it was like snow storm blocking the sunlight for two continuous days, it was clearly disastrous but was beautiful phenomena at the same time”. I imagined if I became one of the local residents there, can I possibly take this natural disaster as a mysterious and beautiful phenomena? Maybe with my artistic drive, my answer is “Yes” because it could happen, once in a lifetime.

People there seemed very accustomed to this kind of natural disaster, most of the residents I met there were pretty calm about it, as well as volunteering to clean up the mess and swiftly brought the town back to normal. For sure, I consider that this incident gave me a huge impression from the beginning of the residency until the end of it. Eventually it gave me the hugest motivation to produce some sight specific work about the natural disaster during my time in the residency.


Mt Bromo on the front and Mt Semeru on the behind.

I went on field trips often around different volcanic sites to collect source images for both my photo collage and video works, including Mt Ijen, Mt Bromo, Mt Batur, Mt Semeru and so on. I have also produced small sculptural objects, casting  Buddha dumbbells out of the volcanic ash from the Mt Kelud eruption. I feel lucky to have worked at the studio of a local sculptor, Hedi Hariyanto who gave me endless support and a warm welcome into his studio. I was able to cast Buddha dumbbells out of the volcanic ash with his advice and assistance. It was a new challenge for me because I am not really familiar with these new materials or collaborating with others for my art.


Buddha Dumbbells, cast out of Volcanic ash

Were there other artists around you during the residency?

There were two other artists who started the same residency with me, Paul Hendrikse from Holland who made a dance performance piece collaborating with two Indonesian dancers, the piece was based on his own choreography which was a total mixture of various movements between Indonesian martial art and abstractly-symbolic bodily gesture.

The other was Indonesian female artist, Yaya Sung who worked on large scale installations of multi media. Her work often demonstrates her own statue and emotional hardship, she often expresses a sense of her own frustration, alienation and injustice…etc, personally she has been facing these problems for long time as she is a member of Chinese immigrant family in Muslim dominant Indonesian society.

What is the arts community like there?

With a culturally rich and diverse cross-over between traditional and contemporary fields of art, a big number of artists from different parts of the globe are gathered in Yogyakarta as one big melting pot of an art community. Sharing ideas and collaborating between many different fields of cultural discourse are dominantly collective role in Yogyakarta.

Was there an expectation to exhibit as part of the residency?

For the end of residency exhibition, I wanted it to be one big installation, conceiving the gallery space as one big yoga hall or fitness hall.  It was a mixture between many different elements, including Buddha dumbbells, barbells, volcanic ashes, video and sound elements…etc. I had a body performance at the opening night of the exhibition, the performance went for 30 minutes, a constant relay of my own physical work-outs in terms of circulating each corner of the exhibition venue, carrying my own sweat from the hard exercises with dumbbells and yoga.


Performing on the opening night of the exhibition

What was the most significant aspect of your time on the residency?

Witnessing an active correspondence between other artists and artist collectives from different fields. I was especially impressed by vigorous exchangeable collaboration between environmentalist and artist collectives with one goal, being connected with a relatively useful harmony for making a better environment.

Also I strongly realized that ‘being open’ is the first important step to take in order to make a positive change in my artistic drive and creativity with a highly challenging opportunity like the artist residency overseas.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on various photo collage works recently, images based on isolated landscapes and their texture from far flung locations, including images of iceberg, waterfall, desert, underwater and so on.

My first solo show, Liquidoscope has opened on 19th of April at Ivan Anthony gallery ( ). In this exhibition, I am showing six digitally collaged photographs and one video work.  In order to create a new metaphor and meaning from existing landscape, I tend to gaze carefully into my inner space which I often consider as a landscape of my own emotion and psyche in continuous cycle of transformation. This fusion between inner and outer landscape gives me an intensified experience as if I was located on a threshold between many different and vastly distanced places. So my sense of being is enlarged to become this imaginary landscape itself.


Recurring Harmony
Digital collage work from the solo exhibition, Liquidoscope.

Learn more about the Asia New Zealand Artist in residence programme here: Sign up to their newsletter to receive updates about their deadlines: