A mat­ter of life and death Kather­ine Lee’s Maps, Doors, and Coffins opens at Tai Mod­ern

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco artist Kather­ine Lee

IN her ex­hi­bi­tion With Fire, Flags, and Sac­ri­fice, which opened at Eight Mod­ern in 2013, lo­cal artist Kather­ine Lee pre­sented a body of work that spoke to the tran­sient na­ture of hu­man life in an in­trigu­ing way: by call­ing at­ten­tion to its ab­sence in com­po­si­tions based on hu­man-made en­vi­ron­ments such as a city street and an en­closed yard. Ten­sion was cre­ated by the sense of ac­tions hav­ing just oc­curred or about to oc­cur. Her paint­ings have a sur­real qual­ity — there’s an im­pli­ca­tion that there’s a hu­man pres­ence in them some­where just out of sight. Lee’s new work, which in­cludes hand-crafted pan­eled doors and sim­ple, mostly un­adorned, coffins, is the­mat­i­cally re­lated to her paint­ings. Us­ing bi­og­ra­phy as a start­ing point, she broaches uni­ver­sal considerations of mem­ory, time, and loss. Maps, Doors,

and Coffins: Lo­cat­ing Ab­sence opens at Tai Mod­ern on Fri­day, June 5.

The new show is per­haps a re­flec­tion on loss from the point of view of those who re­main when some­one has died, and the de­ceased be­come ab­strac­tions, com­posed of mem­o­ries of the living. “I am work­ing with a metaphor­i­cal death — the sen­ti­men­tal as­pect of this piece — of the fam­ily unit I grew up with,” Lee told

Pasatiempo. “I wish to put the ‘ab­strac­tions, com­posed of mem­o­ries of the living’, as you put it, some­where, to af­fix them to some­thing. Nos­tal­gic mem­o­ries cer­tainly re­side there; it is a place the mind makes. All of the work is based upon the place the mind makes but one can never phys­i­cally oc­cupy. I guess I’ve been a bit ob­sessed, try­ing to build bridges to places that are re­ally only states of the mind.”

The ex­hibit’s three ma­jor com­po­nents, maps, doors, and coffins, amount to a con­cep­tual ap­proach to the sub­ject, not of death specif­i­cally, but of states of trans­for­ma­tion. “The maps act as guides,” she said. “The coffins act as ves­sels; the doors act as por­tals. An­other way of putting it: to take a word and treat it like a place; to take a loss and treat it like a thing; to take a name and treat it like a point of en­try. The work is sen­ti­men­tal and darkly funny — quixotic — es­pe­cially the cof­fin piece.” Lee’s “maps” are oil paint­ings. There are two: Home

Map and Grass Map. The first is a night­time street scene with ref­er­ences to place names in the Mid­west where Lee was born and raised. The paint­ing, la­beled with spe­cific ad­dresses, rep­re­sents a mi­cro­cos­mic view of one’s place in the world. The ad­dresses and street names are ar­ranged hor­i­zon­tally across the com­po­si­tion, fol­low­ing the road. The road is lit by a street­light, tow­er­ing like a small sun. Grass Map, a land­scape, is also la­beled with text but the words do not ref­er­ence spe­cific places as much as they do ob­jects, mo­ments, and states of be­ing: “Blood Stain,” “Sav­age Brother,” and “Semi-il­lit­er­ate,” for in­stance. The text is ar­ranged over a patch of grass as though al­lud­ing to things hid­den deep within it. The words are generic enough to call up dif­fer­ent as­so­ci­a­tions for view­ers but one senses, as with Home Map, that they are not ran­dom but spe­cific to Lee’s own per­sonal his­tory, as with the coffins. “Ev­ery­one is still alive and

the coffins will never house bod­ies or be in­terred,” she said. “As a work of art their ex­is­tence is to act as an an­chor or bridge to the con­cep­tual rather than as lit­eral func­tional ob­jects.”

Lee’s coffins are full-sized, fin­ished in black, and fit­ted with han­dles for pall­bear­ers. The one dec­o­ra­tive con­ceit on the lid of each is a ren­der­ing of a skull that is gar­landed with flow­ers, two sym­bols that call to mind me­mento mori — re­minders of mor­tal­ity. The doors in the ex­hibit, each with printed text across them and a few with num­bers like an of­fice door might have, are some­thing else — not me­men­tos but in­vi­ta­tions. With the names “Wolf Hole,” “Sel­dom-Lit­tle Sel­dom,” “Li­brary of Ba­bel,” and “Mu­seum of Dark Forces,” they prom­ise in­trigue, but one would most likely open such doors with a mix­ture of cu­rios­ity and trep­i­da­tion. “The ‘Mu­seum of Dark Forces’ and the ‘The Li­brary of Ba­bel’ both come from fic­tional sources: Un­der­world by Don DeLillo and Fic­ciones by Jorge Luis Borges, re­spec­tively,” she said. The num­bers above the text are the page num­bers from the edi­tions where the ref­er­ences can be found. In the case of DeLillo’s novel, the words “Mu­seum of Dark Forces” are spo­ken by one char­ac­ter to an­other dur­ing a dis­cus­sion about di­etrolo­gia, an Ital­ian word re­fer­ring to the search for hid­den mo­tives be­hind events. In “The Li­brary of Ba­bel,” a short story in Fic­ciones, Borges de­scribes the uni­verse as an im­mense li­brary of ran­domly ar­ranged books that seem to con­form to a spe­cific or­der. “The other two doors are de­scrip­tive place names: Wolf Hole, Ari­zona, and Sel­dom-Lit­tle Sel­dom, New­found­land.”

The idea that the doors open ei­ther to spe­cific places, per­cep­tions, or states of mind is purely con­cep­tual. As self-con­tained ob­jects, not set into a wall or in­tended to open on a clearly de­fined space, they tease the mind with pos­si­bil­i­ties. Death can have the same ef­fect if you think of it as a door or por­tal lead­ing into an­other state. On the other side of that thresh­old, from the point of view of the living, lies one of life’s big­gest mys­ter­ies.

A se­ries of death-em­blem stud­ies, works on pa­per, fur­ther re­calls the me­mento mori. The images are pages taken from Life mag­a­zine and printed, as with the coffins, with skulls and flow­ers im­part­ing a sense of irony that car­ries over into Lee’s other works. In fact, the ex­hibit it­self, be­cause it can, by ne­ces­sity, only con­sider the sub­ject of death from the van­tage point of those still kick­ing, seems as much about pres­ence as it does about ab­sence. Even the de­parted en­ter into a kind of life af­ter death by way of the re­mem­brances of those whose lives they’ve touched. “Con­tra­dic­tions are kind of my métier,” Lee said. “I think the ab­sence/ pres­ence thing is more or less an in­tu­itional or emo­tional state for me that is al­ways there and as I con­tinue to build an aes­thetic, to make more work, I also con­tinue to hone that in­tu­itional/emo­tional state.”

Kather­ine Lee: Death Em­blem Study: April/Cherry, 2015,

laser etch­ing on page from Life mag­a­zine Top right, Maps, Doors, and Coffins: Lo­cat­ing Ab­sence

in­stal­la­tion view Op­po­site page, Home Map, 2015, oil on linen

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.