While now best known for her provocative performances tackling issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and toxic nationalism -- among many other pressing subjects -- Seung-Min Lee worked mostly as an abstract painter until the age of 28. Her then-brief foray into performance during her senior year in college led to new methods for her painting practice, which took on a more performative dimension. She explored, for example, using physical restraints on her body to generate images before shifting her focus predominantly to performance.
In Sing Le No More (2012), a performance for the camera shot on an iPhone, Lee similarly engages with physical limitations. Lee tries to perform the choreography of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies in a leotard and high stilettos while restricted on each limb by bungee chords attached to the walls, repeatedly stumbling to the ground with a smile on her face. Lee’s performance practice tests the boundaries of political correctness and respectability to often humorous and sometimes uncomfortable albeit productive ends, often exposing hers and our latent feelings. She manipulates markers of identity to burst open our assumptions and expectations of our various social positions.
At first comparison, Lee’s paintings and prints may seem far removed from her performance praxis. With its pared down figurative language and measured technique, Lee’s formal approach sidesteps her bold and brash performative tactics. But -- without over-determining the connections -- parallels surface. Both Man Am I Abominable Man and Carnivalore enact variations through the framework of a consistent matrix, allowing for both a predetermined and an open, improvisatory dimension.
In Man Am I Abominable Man, Lee uses a literal silkscreened frame, comprised of wispy hair-like shapes, to evoke the social frame of white masculinity as the default subjective position. The disembodied figure in the foreground raises a hand, reflected through the open space to reveal the frame as a mirror, one through which to see various reflections of others and ourselves. The title itself contains a reflexive mirroring steeped in uncertainty, exposing the abject fragility of this framing.
Lee takes hold of the frame to execute a range of watercolor paintings that channel connection and alienation, assimilation and its failures. One print features text-less SMS bubbles while another reveals an obscured figure’s nude selfie taken from behind. In others, Lee abstracts the visual field, taking on the persona of a Helen Frankethaler-esque abstract female painter in one instance. In the Carnivalore series, amidst colorful chine collé circles atop an undulating frequency, an amorphous, ouroboros-like figure floats within a mustard abyss, a carnivorous figure eating itself. In this way, Lee’s prints take on many of the principles of her broader practice: working within presubscribed and sometimes self-imposed limits; enacting personas; and exploring slippages, variations, and openings for revealing ourselves anew.
— Vivian Crockett, 2018
(b. Seoul, Korea) is an artist based in New York. She has an MFA from Hunter College and BA from Harvard University. She has performed most recently at The Kitchen, Performance Space New York, MoMA PS1, Present Company, Safe Gallery, Essex Flowers, Luxembourg and Dayan, Artists Space, and David Lewis Gallery.
Man Am I Abominable Man 2018
Silkscreen and watercolor, 19.25 x 14.75 in.
Variable Edition: 8
Silkscreen and Chine Collé, 25 x 16.75 in.
Variable Edition: 5