Her work locates points of contact between Korean material tradition and Western avant-garde vocabulary by making particular use of rice as object, motif, commodity, and metaphor.
Hayoon Jay Lee explores the tension between indulgence and abnegation as it exists in the mind and body, as well as on a sociopolitical level. Her work locates points of contact between Korean material tradition and Western avant-garde vocabulary by making particular use of rice as object, motif, commodity, and metaphor. As a building block of civilizations and a marker of wealth differences, rice allows Lee to conceptually play with points of conflict—oscillating between attraction and repulsion, between the East and the West—with the aim of ultimately encouraging reflection on the different ways our conditions and fates are interlinked.
Known for incorporating rice-related motifs and imagery in her paintings, sculptures, installations, performances, and videos, Lee’s work contains figures embedded in rice forms, emphasizing the symbiosis between rice and life. The countless yet clearly defined grains suggest infinite regeneration. In her sculptural works, rice is transformed into a pyramid or grid of 3,000-handcrafted rice “bowls” that speak of both longing and fulfillment and Buddhist concepts of suffering and seeking Enlightenment. Her installations may also take the shape of mounds of rice occupying vast spaces underneath hanging rice sacks. These emotion-laden landscapes lay just beyond our reach; the extensive fields of rice seem to glow with their own inner light, yet each element of these fields is formed by a single grain tentatively holding onto its place in the larger macrocosmic setting. Through interactive performances, Lee endeavors to open a dialogue with audiences, with eyes open to a more textured, multi-layered reality.
Lee was born in Daegu, South Korea in 1962, and earned a B.F.A. in sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2007 and M.F.A. from the Rinehart School of Sculpture at MICA in 2009. She has exhibited her work widely, both nationally and internationally. Lee lives and works in New York City.