Grants & residencies: Lindy Lee - Art Collector

Issue 59, January - March 2012

This profile appeared in the Grants & Residencies feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2012.

In the short catalogue essay that accompanied Lindy Lee’s February 2011 exhibition The Secret World of the Shadow, the artist explained the Buddhist notion of interconnection. “Cosmos is not just in the heavens but intimately connected, inherent within all forms that exist including individual human life,” wrote Lee. “We can never step outside of the cosmos.”

As if determined to explore those cosmic connections in her life as well as in her art, Lee is in China, speaking to Australian Art Collector via Skype. She’s in Shanghai installing a new commission – a 250 centimetre long piece of “thrown bronze,” as she describes it – and graciously agrees to talk amid the nightmares of a hotel with no working in-room power points and a local customs office that seems unwilling to release the sculpture. “The first 24 hours you spend in China are always an extreme assault,” she says laughing.

In 2011 Lee was a recipient of a Visual Arts Board Fellowship, a $120,000 grant dispensed over two years that will enable her to expand her practice and exhibit in Australia and China. “The fellowship also covers the publication of a bilingual monograph funded partly through the China Link, an organisation that is fostering Chinese-Australian relationships,” she explains.

Lee is well known in Australia as an artist whose career since the 1980s has been an evolving examination of ideas of identity and self, a practice that has gone from one thought of as quintessentially postmodern to one that is now resolutely Zen Buddhist. “The question that I’ve been looking at has always been about the nature of self,” she says. “And so over three decades I’ve worked with appropriation that was all about trying to identify those parts of me that were aligned to Western art and being in Australia, trying to work out where I fit – to declare myself as mostly Western.”

A change came for Lee when she realised that there was no need to declare oneself as one thing or another. “I began to explore the transition of China to Australia through my family, tracing ancestors,” she recalls. “Along with that came a very deep interest in Buddhism. The essential question of Zen is the nature of self – what is it that exists? I am interested now in elements. I have started to use fire – fire and water.”

For Lee, the forces of nature are indivisible from the self. “Nature is fabric to our being – we can’t step outside the nature of ourselves,” she says. To reflect that unity she has explored drawing with ink in the rain and experimented with throwing molten bronze (albeit in a controlled situation in a foundry with expert advice and someone else to do the actual flinging). The universe controls the conditions of the making of the work which in turn imbues it with the honesty and integrity of that moment. “My tools are now soldering irons and blow torches,” says Lee. “You could say that accident or the cosmos is making a lot of my work.”

Andrew Frost

Work arising from Lindy Lee’s VAB Fellowship will be seen in at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Marking Time exhibition from 29 March 2012 to 3 June 2012 and in a survey show at the University of Queensland Art Museum in 2013.

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