李傑 | Lee Kit
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 6:01pm on 27th December 2018
Installation view of Lee Kit's exhibition at Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan
All photos: John Batten
(Please scroll down for English version)
by John Batten
Lee Kit’s exhibition occupies, as a single installation, the entire Hara Museum of Contemporary Art – an adapted modernist 1930s former residential building surrounded on two sides by a Japanese garden and an open lawn at the rear. Selections from the museum’s permanent contemporary sculpture collection are placed outside, as are permanent installations within the museum. It is necessary to appreciate the architecture, the architectural detailing - particularly windows - the other art and parts of the museum, including the shop and café, to fully appreciate Lee’s exhibition. Rather than ignoring or competing with the museum’s architecture and its installed art, Lee actively embraces the museum, and both strategically and subtly places his own paintings, videos and installations within it. Lee’s entire installation beckons to be quietly looked at, but it also works if viewers quickly pace through the galleries, ideally accompanied by their own (loud) ear-plugged music, passing through the museum’s natural light, shadows and reflections layered by Lee’s added contributions, then going outside and back in again. Lee would probably approve as his work is open to all sorts of interpretation and, anyway, he often uses and is inspired by music.
Lee Kit has made two intentional alterations to the museum’s internal architecture. These changes will be invisible to most viewers. However, knowing of the alterations shows the artist’s commitment in getting his installation correct. The major change is on the ground floor. Two pillars are covered by adding a wall to create two separate rooms with a low opening in it, people must slightly duck to go between the two rooms. Lee says he did this because the two pillars “were very impressive for me. Which meant I don’t know how to use them.” (It also shows his sense of humour!). In this gallery there is also an ‘annex’ with a wonderfully curved window (original, from when the building was residential) looking out onto, or into, the garden. Placed on the window-sill, half-way along, is a nonchalantly, but ever-so-precisely-placed brown bed-side radio alarm-clock, of a style popular in the 1980s. Standing near the clock gives dual views: into the garden and into the gallery. The eye catches both the garden and on a far wall a video projects images of a woman’s legs; her feet twist, writhe and rub together. The added text to the video (“Deep inside you never let go. Deep inside you never let this go”) is suggestive, or, could be entirely disconnected from the images. Acknowledging this, Lee says that, “I was thinking, maybe this is too much because it provides too much emotions to the video. But then I thought, no, emotion is like a frame to the video, to prevent people from over-interpreting it. I don’t want people to look at the video and think “oh, this is so relaxing.” Yes, it probably is, but I am not talking about being relaxed. So, I added these two sentences. But these sentences repeat too obviously, so I added two more. So, sometimes I add lyrics or phrases which function like frames.”
Placed on the museum’s floors are all the projectors he uses, which are themselves sitting on top of or beside plastic storage boxes, each placed, as obstacles not to be tripped over or as just aesthetic forms. Video images beamed onto walls and pure white light, at times, shining through these boxes. For example, at a right-angle to the ‘feet’ video, is an intermittently projected light coming from the floor onto the wall and across and through the low opening into the next room. As they walk past or pass into the room, the audience is briefly fully lit. Caught in this strong light, the audience and their shadows intentionally add layers that complement the interior architecture and Lee’s own installation. This shadowing effect is repeated in other sections of the museum and “layers” the entire exhibition, Lee emphasizes that, “…the layer is somehow also invisible because when people start to move, all compositions will change. This is something I cannot control.” The audience comes and goes randomly throughout the museum; they are projected, making the entire exhibition intentionally dynamic with people spot-lit, shadows projected; the audience as participants in the show.
Lee has the museum’s own windows replicated as video projections on white walls. The real windows are often adjacent to the replica video windows. Both have their blinds drawn. Enigmatically, the text near one ‘replica’ window says, in part: “Everything is fragmented, but not broken. It’s beautiful.”
There are magical tricks too, openly presented for the audience to spot. A painting of a hand and index-finger pointing downwards is replicated in a video in another room. If a viewer watches this video long enough, a figure appears and walks towards the ‘painting’ to adjust its position. In another segment of Lee’s exhibition, a green coffee mug has the words “Full of joy” printed on it and is placed on an upstairs window-sill. A nearby video includes the words, “But my arm is not long enough to reach the cup.” The cup, however, is available for sale in the museum shop. Also, one of Lee Kit’s archetypal painted cloths is pinned to a wall, at frequent intervals a small child in a bright red T-shirt appears projected on the cloth – the text below simply says “hello”. Finally, the real blinds covering the real windows are made from a gauze-like fabric, in places this same gauze is projected giving some paintings and some walls, a shadowy gauze-like appearance.
The exhibition is a swirl of text, painting, light, shadow, architecture, and glimpses of the outdoor gardens. The audience is an unconscious participant, and the initial crucial welcome (the child’s “hello”) sets the exhibition’s friendly, embracing tone. The audience, I observed, were intrigued, possibly mesmerized in some cases, and fascinated, by the exhibition’s touching and enigmatic layers of installation and possible meaning. It is an exhibition that will be fondly remembered.
Lee Kit, ‘We used to be more sensitive’, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, 16/9/2018 – 24/12/2018
This review was originally published in Artomity magazine, December 2018