Celebrating the Eternal Child: An Interview with Jung Dohee

The Little Prince
photo courtesy of Jung-Dohee

Each year, OCAD University holds an exhibition for its graduating students called Grad Expo.

The Grad Expo is set-up as a showcase of both undergraduate and master’s students in various artistic disciplines, from painting and sculpture to video installations and critique. Yet with the abundance of artwork comes the challenge of being unable to focus on just one art piece, especially if you’re in a crowded room trying to get even a little peak.

Jung-Dohee’s piece “For the Little Prince, the Little boy that was”, based on the 1943 novella The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, stood out for me as soon as I walked by it. In fact, I ended up shuffling backward and returning to it because I didn’t believe that what I saw could be real — a large paper cut-out of the Little Prince [titular hero of the novella, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery], surrounded by flowers, ribbons, and various tiny and beautiful details.

I lost track of time standing in front of the art piece, transported back to various moments of my childhood when I’d sit with a book and groan at the fact that I couldn’t physically recreate the images going through my head. Not only did Jung-Dohee manage to do what little me was unable to, but she also demonstrated how stories are able to find new ways of presenting themselves visually, not just through simple illustrations in books. I was lucky enough to find out more about her work, and about the piece itself.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you tell me a little bit about the title of your piece, “For the Little Prince, the Little boy that was”?

Before explaining my title, I think it would make more sense to explain my body of work first. “For The Little Prince, the Little boy that was” is a series of art works that chronologically explains the story The Little Prince. I wanted to explore the story through different materials and give them a new interpretation.

The Little Prince is a very strange book. It is categorized as children’s literature but the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, has many hidden many messages for adults. As we read the story at different stages of life with different personal experiences and perspective, we find more and more messages, like a treasure hunt. Therefore, I wanted to come up with a title that could somehow appeal to both adult and children while capturing this experience.

Before the final show, I was using “Material exploration on The Little Prince” as my title but I didn’t like the fact that it sounded like a science journal. So I went through the book again thinking that there would be a treasure hidden for me to use as my title. While reading the forward of the book, I read that the author wrote ‘for Leon Werth’. Then, after apologizing to the children for writing the story for an adult, he fixed his dedication to “For Leon Werth, the Little boy that was”. I thought this was perfect for my title, which became “For the Little Prince, the Little boy that was”.

What made you choose to revisit The Little Prince? Did you want to capture your own love for the story or were you hoping to bring something new to it?

I love using narrative elements in my work. Stories, especially children’s literature, have always been a big inspiration for me. They are innocent, but at the same time they often have a deep message hidden within simple wording. For my thesis, I was looking for a story that focuses on a general life rather than specific emotion or event.

Some might say that The Little Prince does not portray the general life of people, because most of us do not fly into the desert and meet a little stranger from another planet. But the story that the author captures in the book is very much based on everyday life. It’s shaped by the emotions and people that everyone experiences throughout their lives. This is why I think it has such a significant power, because it can talk to so many different types of people.

The Little Prince 2.jpg
photo courtesy of Jung-Dohee

Your piece is very complex, with a lot of small details. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of making it? Have you ever attempted anything like this before in terms of the scale and complexity level?

I would say that all of my pieces are very big and detail oriented compared to a lot of other jewellery metal works. Throughout the school year, I’ve created pieces with many detailed piercings on them, so I thought it would make sense to have it as a big part of my thesis as well.

“The Star” is the papercut installation about the Little Prince and everything about his star. It was my first time attempt at papercutting, and it turned out better than I thought. I collected elements from the text, and then illustrated them in small scale first. Then I enlarged them and started to cut them out. I have created numerous sketches for piercing metals so I thought it would be similar, but it was quite confusing with paper.

“Six Planets” are the six metal containers, and they are an example of what I usually do. I sketched and made each and every piece by hand, which is typical for all my work. It’s like a collection of many techniques that I have learnt during school. I started by etching the hand-drawn patterns on the outside of the sheet for the container, file-fold the sheet to form the container body, then solder, and pierce the elements and layers for all six containers. If the layers have any small parts to be attached, I cold-jointed them by riveting small elements onto the layer.

When all of them were ready, I set them into the container using the wire setting that was soldered in place in advance. After all the layers have been set, I soldered the top layer, then I soldered hinges and catches to each lid and container. When the containers were put together, I set four earth magnets to each container using resin and epoxy mixed with gold colour powder so that all six containers come together as one cube. Finally polishing everything, I completed the “Six Planets”.

A lot of sketches and brainstorming had to be done to find the best illustration for each layer and for the overall look, as well as to consider the technical issues for the mechanisms that were part of the piece. I have learnt most during making this piece and had a lot of fun with it, too.

What are the little metallic boxes? Do they also depict passages from the book?

The six metallic boxes are representative of the six planets that the Little Prince visits in the story. He visits six different planets, and meets six different types of people before he lands back home on Earth.

From these parts of the story, I felt that the author is trying to describe the six different types of people that every individual meets at some point in their life: the King, who has authority over everything and likes to rule but seems a little lonely; the Show-Off, who thinks that he is the smartest, handsomest, and wealthiest person on the planet and does not listen to others; the Drunkard, who drinks to forget the embarrassment of drinking, making the same mistake over and over again; the Businessman, who claims all the stars he sees are his possession and records them in his book, but does not know how to really enjoy them; the Lamplighter, who works day and night in order to keep others comfortable; and the Geographer, who had the biggest and most beautiful planet but did not put in time to look around because he considers it useless, and only listens to others about the facts of land.

The people we meet in our lives may not be a King, Geographer, or Businessman, but I think we all know at least one of these people. And I think that the author of The Little Prince describes them very illustratively and beautifully.

I was deeply inspired by these personalities and really wanted to illustrate them with my specialty in metal illustration. I tried my best to respect the original text, so I used the chapter introductions for each of the six planets on the container covers. To add more of my personal touch to it, I also illustrated the inside of the containers with my own drawings. The opening mechanism of each container is meant to resemble a book, so that when people are opening my piece, they can also feel like they are ‘opening each chapter’.

What made you choose paper and metal specifically as media?

My thesis is a series of work chronicling events in The Little Prince, interpreted with different types of materials. The two pieces that were on display in this exhibition were the two parts about the Little Prince’s planet and the six planets that he visits. I have chosen white paper for “The Star” because I wanted it to be big scale and look warm. Considering the aesthetic and the efficiency of creating the piece, I decided that paper would be the perfect material. I then chose to make the “Six Planets” because I wanted to show the audience some metal art for part of the exhibition. 

Did you run into any difficulties while working on this piece?

I ran into so many difficulties during making these two pieces. For “The Star”, because I was not used to using the X-Acto knife, at first I had some trouble making clean lines. For “Six Planets”, because the scale of the piece was a little too big, I had trouble controlling heat while trying to put all the elements into place. I also ran into many other mechanical problems while making this piece, such as ‘where to attach the catch of the container without visually bothering’ or ‘how to successfully insert earth magnets’, but with the help of my amazing professor, technicians at the OCADU jewellery studio and my studio mates, I was able to come through these technical issues.

Are fairy tales a big part of your artist statement or are there other themes you focus on? What other kind of work do you make?

Not specifically fairy tales but story and narrative elements are a very big part of what I do. I also enjoy the use of light and shadow for other types of work that I do. I really like making candle holders with detailed pattern piercing, or big scale installations that have crazy piercings on them so that they create different effects when light and shadows are added to them.

Do you have a favourite fairy tale/story/myth from your childhood?

I loved Alice in Wonderland. I used to like the children’s literature version, but after watching the ballet ‘Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland’ at the Four Seasons Centre, I fell in love completely. It’s the reason why I would love to work in the ballet or theatre scene. So I guess it’s not my favourite from my childhood but it is my favourite overall.

Do you think you will make something similar in the future, based on another story or character, or do you have other project ideas in mind?

First I would like to finish “The Little Prince, the Little Boy that was” series. I have five different pieces in mind for this story so I think I’ll be exploring more of the Little Prince for a while. I think my future works will have a lot of narrative elements in them, but I never know where I will be getting crazy inspirations from. The concept and theme might change, but I don’t think the techniques involving a lot of piercings and my style will change so much. I would also love to properly study stage and theatre art because I think it is an absolutely amazing type of art to explore.

 More of Jung-Dohee’s work can be found on her website: http://www.jung-dohee.com/

 -Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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