A tourist jubilantly mimics the Statue of Liberty; two girls cuddle on a sofa; a couple in 1950's clothes throw each other around the dance floor; young Hispanic mothers gossip on doorsteps; an old woman pesters the postman. These are all wildly different scenarios, yet all linked together by the pervasive presence of the artist in the photographs, assuming new roles and acquaintances. These photos are not staged, but rather represent a curiously on-going theatricalisation of identity, where the artist infiltrates and apparently becomes the member of a social clique or a minority.
Over a period of several weeks, Lee approaches an urban subculture and spends time with its members, immersing herself in their dress, make-up, attitude and activities. Meanwhile, a friend follows her with an ordinary automatic snapshot camera and documents the artist's life in the group. This exhibition focuses on five particular projects: Lee as Tourist, Lesbian, Hispanic, Swing Dancer and Senior Citizen. Whether it's among the retro-glamour of the Swingers or the more sober reality of an elderly person's existence, the intense performative aspect of Lee's work allows her to directly experience the kaleidoscope of urban, turn-of-the-century, social identities.
A photographer by training, Lee performs the ultimate role-switch by placing herself in front of the camera and manipulating visual structure from this reversed position. Enlarging the snapshots provides a new approach to a multi-layered composition that belies the initial random quality of the photographs. Unassuming camera equipment allows the group dynamics to remain intact while Lee can repeatedly present herself as participant and protagonist. As Barry Schwabsky writes: "The people who pose with Lee are her collaborators, but they don't have to understand what she does; they only need to be willing to play along" (Artforum, September 1999).
Lee has recently contributed to exhibitions at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Per L'Arte in Turin, Italy, PS 1 in New York and Real Art Ways in Hartford, Conneticut. In 2000, Lee will participate in The Kwangjiu Biennale in Korea and group exhibitions the Teseco Fondazione Per L'Arte in Pisa, Italy and DC Moore Gallery in New York.
This exhibition was conceived in association with Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York.