Other Investigations: Heeran Lee

Heeran Lee is a performance artist, experimental theater director, acting coach, and art educator based in Seoul, Korea. Recently, Heeran has participated in the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival 2013, Ansan International Street Art Festival 2013, Cheongju International Performing Art Festival 2013 and was also selected as an emerging interdisciplinary artist by the Korean Art Council. She received her BA and MA in Theater at Cheongju University and MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


The first time I saw your work was actually through your collaborator Miao Jiaxin, when you worked on Tuition Laundering (2011). Could you explain how the collaborative process worked for the two of you? Where did the idea originate from? I imagine a lot of us who have either attended art school or higher learning institutions, in general, can relate to this performance.

Miao Jaixin is a very clever and crazy thinker/creator. When we collaborated Miao usually came up with the original ideas and I designed the experience: the embodiment of ideas and gestures within the space. I was lucky to have Miao as my partner for three years.

Tuition Laundering came about one day when we were washing our blanket in a bathtub with our legs and feet, which is a ritual rooted in Asian domestic culture. In 2011, at the very beginning of the spring semester of school, Miao, Wei Shin Yen (currently a Performance Graduate student at SAIC), and I hand-washed, dried and ironed $19,909 worth of school tuition, bill by bill for nine hours in an attempt to clean the money as thoroughly as possible. The performance was not simply about exhibiting 19,909 one dollar bills to create a visual measure of an art education but also a focus on enacting the domestic and labor-intensive process of washing, drying, and ironing that many Korean immigrant workers experience in the United States. Also for me personally, it evoked my relationship with my parents who were continuing to support my education in the United States.

For Sucking on My Thumb and other projects as seen from your website, documentation seems like a very important part of your practice. Do you consider these photographs artworks itself, or do you just view them purely as documentation?

Because my background is in the field of theater which is experienced live, I consider that experiential component to be an important aspect of my work. My work is completed by the audience when they connect with me through interaction, such as eye contact, while I perform. I consider the photos of my live performances purely as documentation and I try not to make any distortion of the performances when it is documented. I consider it as a very utilitarian thing.

There have been quite a few reiterations of your Blow It!! project, most recently being the one that you did for the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival. How has the performance changed within the past few times? How important is the context (whether it’s a gallery opening, festival, or outdoors) to the understanding of your work?

Blow It!! was originally designed for an indoor performance space and performed for the first time at DEFIBRILLATOR Performance Art Gallery in Chicago. I think the first was the most successful of the eight reiterations of Blow It!! I planned the piece without knowledge that it would eventually travel and bring grants and other opportunities. When I first performed it I wanted to make a strong gesture against my small Asian female body and the stereotypes of Asian women. I thought my actions between a strong blowing machine and a giant body of an object were much more important than the objects itself or variations of it, however, when the piece was performed for an outdoor space or on the street, I found that the audience couldn’t really feel my energy but was more excited for the moment when the balloon popped.

The iteration for the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival was far removed from the original Blow It!! Miao and I placed $1000 inside of the balloon to focus more on the affect of money within the experience of the balloon explosion.

Lastly, what themes and topics have been important to you within the context of your art making practice? What has been influencing and interesting you lately?

I recently started working on a site-specific project that will take place on February 2014 at the old Seoul Station building. It is a historic site in Korea which was built in 1925 during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The building functioned as a central station of Seoul until 2004, then it was turned into a cultural center which not many visited. This place as a center, point of departure and a destination for people’s dreams of a big city, is full of collective memories, experiences and stories within the span of the past 80 years. I will be retelling these stories and memories.