21 April 2020

The Cathartic Process of Documenting Linear Spheres

21 April 2020 - Written by Lucia De Stefani

Photographer and artist Su Ji Lee explores multidimensional realms and the hierarchal relations within them, studying the tension between the whole and the hole.

© Su Ji Lee, from the series X² + Y² = 1²

One pivotal moment right before another—the latter being the very act of photographing, the first glimpse capturing the light before it becomes part of a broader framework—involves the photographer asking a simple but important question: “What if…?”

X² + Y² = 1² builds on such queries and constructs through incessant observation of the plainness and complexity, the fullness and emptiness, that surround us at a given moment, intertwined but intangible. Starting with the simple shape of a circle, to which the algebraic title makes reference, Su Ji Lee proceeds by twisting and interpreting the basic traits of the rounded forms as well as the spaces surrounding them.

“It mostly focuses on how much tension a circle can be created from,” Lee says of her work. “There is not much perfect thing in this world, and I’ve always admired the circular motion, just the circle's existence as something very wholesome.”

© Su Ji Lee, from the series X² + Y² = 1²

In the conceptual and tangible realms she investigates, Lee uses contrasting elements of the whole and the hole as her frames of reference. Though this may seem merely wordplay, her inquiry goes beyond the obvious, analyzing hierarchical relationships between the hole and the whole, the flat and the voluminous. She transports us to an abstract world where lines, circles, domes and spheres exist in relation to each other in a hierarchy of form. Extending from these experiments, she contemplates the mundane.

“The sphere and the graphical elements have very heavy volumes in each frame,” she says, “but sometimes the environment challenges the perfect sphere, or sometimes it supports and harmonizes [it]. These works tend to show the tension and the balance between manipulative sources versus something we cannot control, like gravity.”

From time to time, the human element intrudes. Although not marginal, it remains relegated to a static role, reduced to lines and contours, blending with the circles and shapes they assist. “Placing the human figure along with this controlled environment also makes me feel I am controlling the spheres,” Lee says.

© Su Ji Lee, from the series X² + Y² = 1²

But breaking down reality into simpler terms, that attempt to control inevitably and inexorably escapes us, creating a dissonance that drives viewers to wander and interpret the mystifying realities presented, according to the subjective reading of their instincts and inclinations.

In this controlled environment, we suddenly feel estranged. These are ordinary objects in ordinary spaces, Lee explains, but what happens in the frame is never familiar.

“Something [that is] sometimes perfectly aligned, sometimes it creates more tension. Sometimes it seems like it cannot be possible, but it happens. I want to create a bit of mystery, a cathartic experience.”

Lee has felt that first-hand. “It all comes from a question,” which sometimes she has to refine it. When that happens, and when that resolution brings her more answers than she was seeking, “that's the moment that is most cathartic.”

© Su Ji Lee, from the series X² + Y² = 1²


Su Ji Lee is a photographer and artist based in Brooklyn and Seoul. Follow her on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Lucia De Stefani is a multimedia reporter focusing on photography, illustration, culture, and everything teens. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.


This article is part of the series New Generation, a monthly column written by Lucia De Stefani, focusing on the most interesting emerging talents in our community.

Written by

Lucia De Stefani

Reading time

4 minutes

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