Introducing New Forms of Narrative: Berlin Based Artist Seo Hye Lee on Navigating Hearing Loss and Taking Inspiration from Her Unique Sonic Identity

Name: Seo Hye Lee 
Role: Sound Artist 
Based in: Berlin 
Age: 29

Seohye Lee is a multidisciplinary artist from South Korea, living and working in Berlin. 

Seohye uses the mediums of sound and illustration to experiment with new forms of narrative, creating playful pieces that challenge the idea of listening. Drawing inspiration from her hearing loss experience, Seohye aims to show the difference between hearing and listening; regardless of your hearing skill, one can always listen in variety of ways. Coming to terms with her own sonic identity led her to take ownership of sound by incorporating it into her practice. At ATEM Life, Seohye talks about mental health, grounding her artistic voice, and inclusivity & diversity amongst the artist community in Berlin.

1. In your words, who are you?  

I am a sound artist who likes to work primarily with illustration and installation. I use my unique sonic identity and interest in technology to create my sonic world and share my experiences of being deaf with Cochlear Implant. My works represent ideas of inclusivity, art, technology and drawing. 

2. Give us a day in your life. 

As I am a freelancer, my days are mostly the same on weekdays and weekends.

  1. Wake up between 7.30 and 8.30 am.
  2. Make a smoothie with various fruits and spinach. Eat an orange/clementine with the smoothie.
  3. Make coffee and do video call to catch up with my family in Korea
  4. Organise the house and my workspace
  5. Begin work on my areas of research
  6. I normally make simple lunch at home but if I eat out I’ll normally go to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant in Berlin! 
  7. The rest of my afternoon will be filled with emailing collaborators, working on proposals, running errands, and reading material for my projects. 
  8. Between 6 and 7pm I’d start cooking dinner – unless I have plans to meet friends for dinner, I usually cook dinner at home. 
  9. I like to keep rest of evening free from working – using the time to watch Netflix or read. 
  10. Go to bed around 10 -11pm. 

When I am traveling, my schedule completely changes depending on the workload I have. But wherever I am, I’ll always start my morning with coffee! 

3. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some actions you take to keep yourself well (mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually)?  

I try to focus on doing small self-care things during stressful times such as taking a bath, doing face masks, drinking coffee in a nice cafe, going for walks and running. Also, being grateful for things I do and opportunities I come across is one way to focus on being happy. 

4. How do you feel about talking about mental health? Is it something you feel comfortable enough to talk about with family, friends, and professional colleagues?

I talk about mental health with friends– I do feel that it is so important to prioritize one’s self care. I used to struggle to come to terms with loneliness when I first moved to the UK so I didn’t really open up about it until a few years later; moving to a new country when you’re young definitely can be challenging. Looking back on my early 20’s, I had a hard time asking others for help, but now being almost 30, I have found it has become easier to come to terms with previous struggles and be open about how I feel. 

6. How long have you pursued your art practice? When have you felt like you stepped into your voice or specific style as an artist (or are you still exploring)?

I’ve been pursuing my art practice since I moved to the United Kingdom as a student. During my time at University, we were encouraged to be open to making new work and to be curious about topics we were interested in. Before going to my Masters programme at the Royal College of Art I was originally planning to pursue illustration further, however after discovering my interest in sound art and other artistic practices, I gained more confidence in pursuing these areas too.

I think now I’m in the beginning of my journey as a sound artist who works with different mediums and I have begun to talk more about my practice at public events. 

7. In your opinion, is the artist community in Berlin structured to support conversations within the community about wellness and inclusivity?

As I am still relatively new to Berlin, I am still getting to know the artist community in Berlin but from what I can tell it is an art scene that is very experimental and inclusive in terms of diversity, wellness and gender. I certainly feel that I would have the freedom to pursue my art practice and what I hope to achieve in such an open setting. Talking with people in the creative industry has always been a great way of motivating myself to do things by learning and to find out new interests. Recently I took part in a studio visit with students at School of the Arts Institute Chicago (SAIC) and this was a great opportunity to be inspired by the variety of work the students are creating – this certainly pushes me to keep creating my own work too!

What Did You Say?, Audio-Visual Installation, 2017

8. You openly talk about having a disability and living with assistance, and you recently gave an artist talk at the Art Institute of Chicago about embracing our individual identities. I think that’s an inspiration to others who still feel like they can’t openly talk about themselves fully because of how they are. How has the uniqueness of who you are informed your development as a creative and why do you choose to have this part of you influence so much of the way you approach your art and the work you choose to pursue?

Living on my own in a new country has taught me many things about myself and that I cannot do this completely on my own. I found it hard to ask for help and to open up about myself at the risk of being in a disadvantaged position. The uniqueness of who I am has helped to shape my art practice and what I want to share with the audience. I’ve been given great opportunities in various places to discuss how my Cochlear Implant has shaped my sonic identity and I’ve learned to embrace my individuality through my art practice. My deaf identity has allowed me creative freedom with sound art and the ability to reinterpret sound in my own way.

9. You’ve been living in Berlin as an artist in residence for 1.5 years. How do you feel about inclusivity over there societally? What is it like compared to your experience in South Korea and the United States? 

I’ve been living in Berlin for about a year and a half now and I definitely think it is a very inclusive place to be – I really feel that people are able to pursue their creative paths here. Having had the experience of living in four different countries, I think I have become quite used to adapting to new environments, however as I only spent my early years living in South Korea and the USA, I do feel that I have grown more artistically in Europe, as this is where I have spent the majority of my time as an artist. I do enjoy visiting my home country of South Korea each year and checking out the creative scene there!

Interview by Susan Im

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