SIMON LEE MOTHER IS PASSING. COME AT ONCEby William Corwin
CRISTIN TIERNEY | MARCH 21 – APRIL 27, 2013
MOTHER IS PASSING. COME AT ONCE is an enigmatically fitting title for a show that has more veils than Salome’s dance. Simon Lee, a photographer and installation artist who is also known for his work with his wife, the filmmaker Eve Sussman, addresses the seminal issues of photography in this swirling and intricately conceptualized zoetrope. Like several of his previous projects, Lee seeks to inundate the viewer with too much information; his desired result is not to confuse or aggravate, however, but to cocoon the viewer in a womb-like miasma of images, sounds, and concepts. His chosen vehicle for this, at least for the past few years, has been found images, through which he enlivened Ted Hughes’s poem “Crow.”
A series of nearly floor-to-ceiling screens hangs from a track installed in the girders of the gallery, dragged along by a motorized contraption designed by Sugi Kazuaki that slowly navigates the perimeter of the space in a wide oval. These curtains move at a snail’s pace and, passing by eight projectors, briefly catch and release a series of filmed shadows. These collected shadows—some occurring naturally, others manufactured by the artist—play on the screens like an indistinct, slo-mo Balinese shadow play, holding to moments of clarity before fading into a background of collaged photographs that line the walls.
The photographs are the artist’s and they aren’t: Lee has accumulated an assortment of other people’s snapshots, storyboarded these memories together, re-photographed them, cropped, recropped, and then reproduced a harvest of images divorced from their original scale or medium, i.e. Polaroid, brownie box, Kodachrome. The precision of the images in the snapshots, which feature airplanes, churches, children in the snow, and the simplicity and sometime softness of the projected shadows, insists on a constant recalibration of the viewer’s perception. Whether you agree or disagree with David Hockney on his interpretation of lenses and their effect on the history of art, he does make a good point: that shadows and photography are inseparable bedfellows. In this installation, Lee deconstructs and reverses the process by lighting the photographs with shadow—positing what is usually the by-product of the object as the primary actor.
Is this another photographer grown weary of his métier, like Cartier-Bresson who embraced drawing in his later years in a sort of deathbed conversion? Simon Lee is, instead, embracing other people’s vision and memory. It’s not about originality, it’s about the inevitability of what people are drawn to commemorate, and it is almost always the same: the same smiles, angles and compositions that appear again and again in albums everywhere and which Lee found in junk shops from Poland to Algeria.
The title phrase, “Mother is Passing. Come at Once,” derives from a telegram that is emblematic of the last veil of Lee’s installation. Along with photographs, the exhibition is an assemblage of collected and collaged letters. These are the correspondences of strangers, and half a conversation at that. Lee has invited writers to respond to the letters and then to read out these new responses to a long forgotten discourse. The rhythm of the words, paired with the slow creak of the screens on their track and the flicker of the shadows, generates a rhapsodic and decidedly sad nostalgic presence in the gallery. Lee has moved away from the creepiness of “Where is the Black Beast?” and has deftly opened a new approach to the idea of the spectacle, fabricating a reinvigorating dance of classic conceptual components: projection, found art, and appropriation.
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