Visual Poetry “A Field of Swaying”

“A Field of Swaying” integrates poetry and an animated oil painting in a stop motion film with sound. The poetic objects in this poem, such as the red hairy monster, daisies, and icy fragments, are abstract concepts that build a story of dreaming desire and its pain. The viewers are invited to be a part of the monster by watching the blinking screen and sharing the transformative experience.

Poem & Animation by Sherlyn M. Choe
Voice & Guitar by Sherlyn M. Choe

Original Song by 김일두 

Watch process works and more videos here

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Visual Essay Project “Idol Factory”

Thesis: Idol Factory

by Sherlyn M. Choe
OCAD University

Double-sidedness of Asian music industry, the underlying ugliness beneath the perfect and glamorous image. “Idol Factory” reveals the exploitative practices behind Asian Idol culture and its effects on young people’s lives. I pay attention to the contemporary cultural phenomenon among the mass, the media and the contorted humanity in between. Inspired by the modern philosophy concept “Idol”, meaning the false images of the world, this thesis project aims to point out the masses’ biased recognition of the world. I got the first spark from “Idol of the Theatre” from Novum Organum (1620) by Sir Francis Bacon and “Morality of Taming” from Twilight of the Idols (1889) by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and made a connection to the cultural terminology “Idol”. 

Throughout this series of illustrations, I intended to show the negative aspects of Asian Idol culture while still showing the refined appearance of Idols. In other words, this project enlightens the consumers on the double-sidedness of Asian Idol culture so that the viewers can bring their attention to this biased “false” image. This project also implies how capitalistic or economic authority can manage people’s way of seeing the culture. Several types of duality of the society, such as ‘beauty versus sadness’ and ‘seduction versus restricted freedom’, are illustrated in this project. These create a somewhat uncanny balance in tension, and this is the visual method that I chose in order to express how industrializing young people’s lives is unethical in contrast to their attractive images.

My project includes 10 different themes: life under surveillance, slave contract, double standards for female Idols, graduation or ejection, forced plastic surgery, early retirement in 30’s, endless audition competition, anti-fan terror, fan clubs with balloon culture, and fascistic fandom.

Illustration #1 Life under Surveillance
Several camera viewfinders surround the woman figure and her embarrassed facial expression illustrate that Idol stars can’t enjoy their private time because they are always under surveillance by the mass.

Life under Surveillance, 2018 Gouache on Paper

Illustration #2 Slave Contract
Idol singer’s contract is unfair in terms of profit sharing and lasts for about ten years. Their personal schedules are seriously restricted, including dating or going to school. The human figures locked in a spotlight on stage imply their lives are trapped by the fame given through their contracts.

Slave Contract, 2018 Gouache on Paper

Illustration #3 Double Standards for Female Idols
In Asia, female girl groups are supposed to look innocent, while their music and dance show extremely sexualized concepts. These conflicting desires of Asian Idol fans are illustrated through a young female singer’s costume and gesture.

Double Standard, 2018 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #4 Graduation or Ejection
When Idols reach their 20’s, the singers have to leave their groups because some Asian Idol groups have a “graduation” policy, and this is to maintain the group members’ age as only teens or early 20’s. This illustration shows only legs of girls, and the girls’ gestures and costumes represent the process of “graduation”. A young girl walks into a group of dancing girls, while an older girl is kicked out from the group on the other side.

Graduation or Ejection, 2018 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #5 Forced Plastic Surgery
Idols are forced to get plastic surgeries and some of them get their floating ribs removed in order to have slim body shapes. The singer on the conveyor belt shows that she is handled like a manufactured product, and the robot arms wearing medical gloves suggests that the plastic surgery is also a type of mass production in Asian Idol industry.

Forced Plastic Surgery, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #6 Early Retirement in 30’s
When Idols stars stop their career, they often make wrong decisions in their life, such as gambling and drugs, because many of them can’t concentrate on regular education at their early age and don’t understand normal people’s lives. This illustration juxtaposes a retired Idol star’s face reflected on the mirror with his past photos on the wall through differentiated degree of colour saturation.

Early Retirement, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #7 Endless Audition Competition
When Idol singers are registered in entertainment companies, they still need to compete in auditions and they don’t know when they can be on stage. A girl actually committed suicide in South Korea because her company didn’t extend the contract after she failed at the final stage of audition. In this illustration, the endless staircase with impossible structure symbolizes the competitive process that Idol hopefuls have to endure. Numerous young people suffer from the irregularity of Asian Idol industry, and the mood and atmosphere are expressed through washed colour in the background. A Victorian era style picture frame is used in order to cohere the singing stage in 18th Century, shown in illustration. This is the period of Francis Bacon’s philosophical idea, which is where I got the first spark for this thesis.

Endless Audition, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #8 Anti-fan Terror (3D sculpture)
This illustration is based on the incident that a girl group member received a fan mail written in blood, including razor blades. Obsessive Idol fans often attack their dislikable Idols in both physical and psychological ways. This 3D work includes 1/16” Acrylic laser cut sculptures and a painted envelope, and they are installed together in a clear display box. The laser cut sculpture is designed like a razor blade with “Your FAN” as negative space. This connects the negative connotation of old style razor blades and Idol anti-fans’ violent behaviors.

Anti-fan Terror, 2019 Mixed Media

Illustration #9 Fan Clubs with Balloon Culture (Diptych – Left)
In Asian Idol Culture, each fan club has their own balloon colour, and Idol fans bring the specific colour balloons and sit together with their fan club members in concert halls. This makes colorful waves of balloons in stands. Joyful and vivid colour balloons are illustrated to show a positive aspect of Idol fandom, cheering their loving Idol stars.

Fan clubs with Balloon Culture, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #10 Fascistic Fandom (Diptych – Right)
Asian Idol fans sometimes fight against another Idol fan club members. One light gray balloon is surrounded by many other dark balloons and visually isolated. In order to juxtapose this illustration with illustration #9, these illustrations are presented in a diptych style. By applying visual strategy from Andy Warhol’ Marilyn Diptych, they are respectively mounted on two hardboards and hinged together so that they work as a pair of illustrations showing the contrast of positive and negative sides of Asian Idol fan clubs. Also, I was inspired by religious diptychs in mid 15th Century as products for personal belonging of god, which is another cultural authority.

Fascistic Fandom, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar

Dotty, the New “Ugly Duckling”

Fairy Tale Analysis

     The author of the Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Andersen’s life before his success was a series of failures. He had to give up to be an actor “with the onset of puberty”, so later he entered in a Latin school to be a writer, but his school life was also filled with “a hellish experience” and “a dismayed defeatism and a severe lack of self-confidence” (Søerensen). Andersen’s earlier childhood seemed not very bright either. In the article, The Underduckling: Hans Christian Andersen, Andersen was “what would now be called a freak. He was tall and thin and clumsy; he seldom played with other children” (Lurie). Thus, it can be said that Andersen reflected his childhood memories in his work, and what the Ugly Duckling experiences in the story–all the inadequacy, rejection, loneliness and bullying from the other ducks–could be parts of his old story. In the same way, Lurie also points that the Ugly Duckling is “an allegory of Hans Christian Andersen’s own life–the unattractive, awkward, lowborn hero becomes a swan without any effort on his part” although actually “he [Andersen] transformed himself into a swan only partially, and by long and exhausting effort” (Lurie). The contemporary fairy tale, Fly! Little Penguin Dotty, was written in order to update this point, which emphasizes the importance of individual effort to develop abilities and appearances.

       To introduce the piece, Fly! Little Penguin Dotty is a didactic story that helps children learn the positive attitude about their personal growth in our competitive society today. This story shares the same stake and moral from the Ugly Duckling by Andersen, but new characters and environmental setting were used in order to deliver its main message more clearly. For example, in the Ugly Duckling the ugly duck simply realizes the fact that he is originally a swan, but in this fairy tail Dotty trains himself and gains flying ability in addition to the nicer feathers, and these points differentiate himself from the other penguins. This part effectively updates the Ugly Duckling by showing the process of Dotty’s success, which overcomes his disadvantages through effort and even changes how his penguin friends think about him.

       Nevertheless, Fly! Little Penguin Dotty still fits on the history of the classical fairy tale in terms of metamorphosis. According to Marina Warner, metamorphosis an important method that spins the flow of stories by providing dramatic changes on the characters:

fairy tales usually restore the victims of metamorphosis to their original form. Or they transfigure to be them to be far more beautiful than before. The restoration leads to recognition: when the beast guise falls away, the true prince appears. In every case, the outer form has hidden the inner man…Heroines also suffer degrading disguise when they conceal their true identity under ashes and dirt, or shroud themselves in a wooden cloak, a coat of rushes, or the hide of a donkey or a bear. (36-38)

What happens to Dotty in Fly! Little Penguin Dotty is also similar. Dotty’s great development throughout the story is very distinguishable like what the heroines show in the fairy tales that Warner mentioned above. Being misundertood as a duck is like Dotty’s situation at the first half of the story, so Dotty is not able to show his hidden abilities yet. Coming back to the actual position–from an ugly duck to a gorgeous swan–is like Dotty’s becoming the best swimmer and an only flying penguin in his kindergarten. Therefore, Fly! Little Penguin Dotty clearly adapts metamorphosis in order to reveal the characters’ hidden fact and turn around the plot.

       In addition, Fly! Little Penguin Dotty is recognizably a fairy tale because it includes various educational elements, such as colour concept and how to play safely in the water, which are helpful for four to seven years old children; however, the morals that this story deliver are not only for children but also adults: improve yourself through your effort, do not limit yourself as the others see you, and find out your identity based on what you do instead of your born-in conditions. According to Pamela Orosan-Weine, the Ugly Duckling is one of children stories that “deal with universal dilemmas of human life and have been told to youngsters for ages to warn them of the struggles they face within themselves, and to guide them in mastering the fundamental predicaments in life, including their internal conflicts and external struggles” (18). When Andersen’s first fairy tale book was published, he had also said that his book was “intended to publish were not only written for children, but were written the way H. C. Andersen would have told them to a child” and “Andersen’s fairytales address adults as well as children” (Hansen 163). Likewise, although Fly! Little Penguin Dotty used vocabulary and language for four to seven years old children’s level, its morals are suitable for all age groups.

       In short, Fly! Little Penguin Dotty, enhances the core message of the Ugly Duckling, written on the basis of Andersen’s difficult childhood that he had gotten over. The main character Dotty passes through the process of metamorphosis, and this setting has a significant role throughout the story as many classic fairy tales show. Fly! Little Penguin Dotty helps four to seven years old children readers learn how to describe colours and provides safety guidance for swimming, while the morals of the plot deliver several self-care messages for teens to even adults, which are about self-confidence through personal growth and independent training.

Works Cited

Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Ugly Duckling.” Folk & Fairy Tales. Ed. Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. Peterborough: Broadview, 2009. 161-68. Print.
Hansen, Susanne Mørup. “Hans Christian Andersen – Told for Children.” Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 13.3 (2005): 163-77. Taylor & Francis Group. Web. 7 Apr. 2018.
Lurie, Alison. “The Underduckling: Hans Christian Andersen.” Boys and Girls Forever: Children’s Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter. New York: Penguin, 2003. 1-11. Rpt. in Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Tom Burns. Vol. 113. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Apr. 2018.
Orosan-Weine, Pamela. “The Swan: The Fantasy of Transformation versus the Reality of Growth.” Configurations 15.1 (2007): 17-32. Project MUSE. Web. 7 Apr. 2018.
Søerensen, Peer E. “Hans Christian Andersen.” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 249. Detroit: Gale, 2018. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Apr. 2018.
Warner, Marina. “With a Touch of Her Wand.” Once upon a Time. New York: Oxford Univ, 2016. 19-43. Print.

Contemporizing History


A Painter’s Break, 2018
Acrylic on Canvas
– Inspired by Claude Monet –

        Jean Monet on His Hobby Horse, is an oil painting done by Claude Monet in 1872. Monet’s son, Jean Monet, was born in 1867 and was five years old when this painting was completed. This work had never been exposed to the public until Monet died in 1926. By looking back on Monet’s life, he was in France when he was working on this piece because Monet fled with his family to avoid the Franco-Prussian War, which happened in 1870, and came back from England a few years later. It seems that Monet wanted to commemorate the scene of Jean peacefully riding the tricycle after their refugee life.

        I paid attention to the point that this painting was done for Monet’s personal memory of his family.  Unlike his public works, Monet never exhibited this work while he was alive and always carried this painting whenever he moved. In contemporary world, most people upload the images on their social media accounts, such as Instagram and Facebook, in order to record their memories. If Monet were in today’s contemporary society, he would probably have a social media account and share his personal sketches or paintings among his friends. What I tried to show through my painting, A Painter’s Break, is the scene suggesting a painter is looking at his or her personal images uploaded on the social media account; the image is shared only for his or her close friends unlike their other artworks to be sold.

        To sum up, as a father before a painter, Monet made a quick painting while his son was on the toy horse tricycle. He always carried this work although he never exposed it to the public. Through my painting, I contemporized the point that the original artwork was created for recording Monet’s personal moments. In a contemporary context, the image sharing system through social media services is a common method for people to record personal visual memories.