Self-portraits with an edge.
August 31, 2002 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Self-portraits with an edge. "In a series of extraordinary transformations, this young, Korean-born conceptual artist unfolds a multiplicity of lives and identities documented through the lens of her point-and-shoot camera as she "becomes" a young punk in the East Village, a Connecticut-based exotic dancer, or a senior citizen picking through thrift stores in Murray Hill."

Nikki S Lee takes Cindy Sherman in another direction. Sherman's classic photographs, as their title Film Stills indicates, are static and meticulously set up. But Lee takes her characters to the street, using real people as props and set.

Fluidity of identity? Artist-subject relationship? Comment on sub-cultures? Isn't contmporary art great?
posted by statisticalpurposes (24 comments total)
Incredible link, thanks! Nikki's ability to blend in with her subjects is incredible, though I had trouble buying her Drag Queen look. Still, it can't be easy trying to be a woman pretending to be a guy pretending to be a woman.
posted by poseur at 12:36 PM on August 31, 2002

what's interesting about lee, and differentiates her from sherman quite drastically, is that she actually spends a great deal of time learning and interacting with these sub-cultures.

if i recall correctly, for her skateboarding project, she sought out local skateboarders, learned how to skate, and hung out with them for a good period of time. it's not like she just dresses up and jumps into a scene, which would be something else altogether.

it's rather more anthropological than sherman's work, i think. good stuff, all in all. thanks for the link -- i totally spaced on going to see her show when it came through here, so i'm glad it's all online.

here's an article in the sfweekly about her.
posted by fishfucker at 1:36 PM on August 31, 2002

I'm really hoping a European here can remember the URL for the two British guys who did the same thing as this.

They were hilarious, but also got a lot of slating and were accused of 'mocking their subjects'. Sure, they were, but that was the whole point, it was entertainment. This woman seems to have turned their wacky form of humor into art!

I'm sure it was linked on MeFi a year or two ago now. Can anyone remember what they were called? They even managed to get a slot on a TV show in the end.
posted by wackybrit at 2:15 PM on August 31, 2002

Cool. How long until she does the Manhattan Project?
posted by Grod at 2:18 PM on August 31, 2002

I literally *just* got back from the Open City exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum, which featured many photographs by Nikki S. Lee. How wonderful to come back to Metafilter and find some great links about her! Thanks!
posted by jennak at 2:26 PM on August 31, 2002

For her next piece, Miss Lee intends to become a failed conceptual artist, picking through thrift stores and abbatoir dustbins for 'objet trouve'. In her relentless pursuit of verisimilitude, Miss Lee will not photograph or document the piece and will remain in character for the rest of her life.
posted by RokkitNite at 2:37 PM on August 31, 2002

thanks fishfucker, I hadn't seen the sfweeky article.

And I have to agree with the author's comment, "Lee admits that the images' formal qualities matter little to her -- she leaves the question of composition entirely up to the photographer." It's certainly a major flaw in the project as a work of art (ideally, I feel art should be both conceptually and formalistically worthwhile), but it doesn't make Lee's concept and work any less fascinating.
posted by statisticalpurposes at 2:41 PM on August 31, 2002

Really great link. I'm very impressed with her chameleon like abilities. Can someone who knows more about these print tell me how she does the pics? Is someone else shooting them, or is she wandering around with a tripod and setting up the shots?
posted by dejah420 at 2:42 PM on August 31, 2002

Ah, the FF's link covers that...doh. :)
posted by dejah420 at 2:50 PM on August 31, 2002

Go ahead and dismiss it, RokkitNite. Granted her projects may not qualify as Great Art, but how can you deny that they're intriguing and unique?

It's disheartening that "conceptual (or any contmeporary) artist" is generally an unviable career choice, unless you want to pick though "thrift stores and abbatoir dustbins" to stay afloat. I wish I knew what the solution to this dilemma is. If it's a supply-and-demand problem of economics, how can we convince people art is important? ...without commercialization and commodification to the point where it's no longer good art...
posted by statisticalpurposes at 2:53 PM on August 31, 2002

It's disheartening that "conceptual (or any contmeporary) artist" is generally an unviable career choice

Well, no, it's not, really. I mean, we have enough bad art as it is, even though only people who are willing to make serious sacrifices can do it all the time. Imagine the mountain of crapulence we'd be buried under if it was possible for more people to make a living at it.
posted by kindall at 3:03 PM on August 31, 2002

Hey, hey, hey - I wasn't dismissing it, stat, just making a light-hearted joke. I think it's an interesting idea - it reminds me a lot of Luke Rhinehart's The Diceman, actually, the idea of stepping into someone else's shoes until one's own identity starts to disintegrate.
The posts here are testament to the fact that plenty of people do find what she's doing interesting. I'm glad there's not too much of a gloss on it, too. When artists start to say 'well, this piece represents such and such' and 'this is supposed to make you think x, y and z' then it ceases to be interesting.
Bit of a one-trick-pony though, don't you think? She's been doing this for a while... step on the same patch of ground twice and you step in mud.
posted by RokkitNite at 3:07 PM on August 31, 2002

Intriguing, to be sure, but I think I'd like her work better if she didn't traffic in stereotypes quite so obviously. Seems like she's really taking a cartoonish, not-very-thoughtful approach and depicting her preconceived ideas of what other people are like -- even if she does spend time with them.

I realize that there's some truth to these appearance-based stereotypes, but c'mon! It feels like she's playing in a costume store than really trying to look at hip-hoppers, seniors, people from Ohio, et cetera. (Are the Ohio people the same ones that run
posted by Vidiot at 6:28 PM on August 31, 2002

...what identity have u chosen? (or what can u pull off?) So hard to be urself these days...
posted by eatstatic at 7:15 PM on August 31, 2002

She's been doing with her photographs what I've been doing with my life, for several decades.

Woohoo! I'm a conceptual artist! Be right back - I'm gonna go post some galleries of old snapshots and give them names like "The Pirate Project".

...or maybe not.

I am just taking the piss here, but not just to be curmudgeonly. It's interesting what she's done, for a few minutes. But I tend to look down my nose at what seems to be some need for props to open discussion of fluidity of identity or the artist-subject relationship or sub-cultures. I suppose I've always had an antagonistic relationship towards some of the public masturbation that seems to fall under the rubic of 'conceptual art'. Kids these days, huh?

Anyway, more interesting link than yet another political op-ed piece. Thanks.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:46 PM on August 31, 2002

It's something of a comment on the state of contemporary art that an artist whose work explores identity should have none of her own.

...and of course that throws her squarely into the shadow of Warhol. Several of her photos show an almost callous absence of pathos and appear to verge on emotional exploitation. It's a shame to go through life never having lived a moment of it.

Isn't contemporary art great?

generally, no.
posted by joemaller at 8:23 PM on August 31, 2002

posted by delmoi at 8:36 PM on August 31, 2002

Oh, spare us, delmoi, and take it to Fark, OK? You can almost hear the Beavis and Butthead moron-chortling around here these days.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:54 PM on August 31, 2002

I didn't know Nikki S. Lee's work at all before seeing this link, but it'd be interesting if someone like her did photographs like this - since they're so heavily determined to be snapshots - and stuck them in photo albums, refrigerator doors, little installations, and made those be the museum pieces. Artifacts from these imaginary people's lives. Or not! Suppose different roles were mixed together. I can see that being a way to leverage more psychological depth out of this concept. Though it might take it further away from Warhol I suppose.

posted by furiousthought at 9:27 PM on August 31, 2002

kindall: I agree, there would be a mountain of crapulence, but there would also be a lot more Great Art... and I think for those Great ones it's worth it.

Rokkitnite: Yes, so far, we've only seen one of her tricks. I'll have to keep an eye on her and see if she comes up with anything else. She is only 30, after all.

And to all the nay-sayers: I'm glad to hear serious criticism of her work, and most of it I agree with... but I find it frustrating to hear people take a swing at art for the sake of it. True, some art is bad. Some is "public masturbation." Some is juvenile. But to come at all art from that perspective negates the open-mindedness that's often necessary for the appreciation of art that just doesn't suck at all.
posted by statisticalpurposes at 8:54 AM on September 1, 2002

I think it's a pretty good idea, but I am very distracted by the awful quality of the photographs. Even though I realize it's not the photos that are the most important part, and that the "dress-up" part that's the art in this project, I think if you're going to go to all that trouble, wouldn't you take the time to document it better? It looks like the photos were taken with a point-and-click camera, and the composition in almost all of them is just awful and amateurish..

But maybe that was a conscious decision.
posted by crunchland at 9:03 AM on September 1, 2002

wackybrit, maybe you mean early Gilbert and George?--I know they did performances as "singing sculptures" etc back in the 60s before they did all the stained glass-looking work.
posted by amberglow at 9:09 AM on September 1, 2002

my first reaction to this stuff was that it was exploitative - so it was interesting to read that she's open about the project beforehand. while that seems to raise problems for the sfweekly reviewer, i think it moves her away from the "usual" "cheap" social equivalent of objet trouvé and towards something more collaborative. having the photos as snapshots taken by a friend emphasizes this - the work isn't directly about appearances, but about social contact. i admit it's grown on me...
posted by andrew cooke at 10:01 AM on September 1, 2002

The British blokes are Dean and Nigel. Although their bent is humor and not art. Unlike Lee, they do this on the spot, on the fly. Her photographs look, more or less, like what you would expect taken by members of the group she's infiltrated, but without artist narrative, it looked more like "dress up".
posted by plinth at 6:21 AM on September 2, 2002

« Older ICANN disses   |   Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments