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Picture book artist Baek Hee-na's magical worlds come to life
Baek’s first solo exhibition invites visitors to experience wonder of magic, miniature setsBy Hwang Dong-hee
Published : June 25, 2023 - 17:10
Tong Tong from "Magic Candies" jumps into the real world at acclaimed picture book artist Baek Hee-na's first solo exhibition, which opened Thursday at Seoul Arts Center's Hangaram Art Museum.
Baek, who has won multiple awards, including the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2020 -- the highest international honor in children's literature -- captivates readers with her imaginative storytelling and meticulously crafted visual worlds.
"It feels like I have tried everything I wanted to do, and I have achieved all my goals through this exhibition. Although it was sometimes challenging and (I felt) a lot of pressure, I realized I was doing it for my readers," said Baek during a press conference held at the museum Wednesday.
This exhibition invites visitors to experience three-dimensional worlds through some 140 art pieces from Baek's 11 picture books, including "Cloud Bread" (2004), "Bath Fairy" (2012), "Magic Candies" (2017) and her latest work, "Yeoni and Willow Bachelor" (2022).
Baek's artistic process involves not only drawing with charcoal and colored pencils but also creating character figurines and miniature sets using paper, fabric and Sculpey (a clay-like material that hardens when heated). Baek not only designed and decorated the sets, but also directed the scenes and photographed them.
Some of the sets include the sparrow's house, the two-story mole house and the long snake house which were created for "Last Night" (2011) but ultimately not featured in the book.
Visitors can observe Tong Tong's house from "Magic Candies" from different perspectives, rather than seeing it solely from the veranda, as in the book. The set pays attention to the smallest details, including items such as a kickboard at the entrance, a remote control on the table and an air conditioner unit.
The exquisite scale model of the apartment from "Moon Pops" (2010), which received an honorary award at the esteemed Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards last year, is showcased and stands at the height of an average adult. To illustrate the story set in an apartment inhabited by wolves on a scorching summer day, Baek crafted a towering seven-story building. Each small house in the building is equipped with a camera, allowing visitors to view the interior through a screen.
“While only a handful of scenes are featured in the book ... I felt I needed to bring the entire setting to life," Baek said.
In the “Bath Fairy” section, the exhibition recreates an actual bathhouse atmosphere with hanging beads and steam, while the pond from "The Blowfly in My Dream" (2014) is displayed on the floor, which can be easily viewed by young children.
The exhibition also includes immersive media art featuring “Yeoni and Willow Bachelor,” and videos of Baek’s creative process, as well as life-size photo zones alongside Baek's most beloved characters, including Tong Tong.
“I wanted to let the visitors see firsthand how the scenes in the books were created. But also, as an artist, I had this desire to create these sets as standalone art pieces,” said Baek. The artist added that she hopes the exhibition will inspire children to have hope and courage, as well as motivate them to create.
The artist also discussed her perspective on the evolving landscape of storytelling mediums beyond traditional publication and print.
"If books were the primary medium until now, I sense a change. ... We should not limit ourselves to books alone. We must change the notion that (other forms of) media ... are secondary,” said Baek. “The power of storytelling should come first.”
The exhibition runs until Oct. 8.
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