Seung Min Lee

Seung-Min Lee moves fluidly between performance, video, sculpture, photography, and painting to explore personal and public identity and roleplaying. She attempts to denaturalize one’s normal values and assumptions based on his or her subjective positions. Lee’s work breaks through the demographic limitations of telling culturally and temporally specific jokes by using odd formal arrangements within the real. Lee appropriates the tropes of social networking sites in her performance, video, and installation work to examine the role of the individual and his or her identity in our new media economy.

For the Hunter College MFA Spring 2012 Thesis Exhibition, the entire floor of Lee’s space is carpeted in glossy, long, seemingly wet hair—reminding one of the hairs that gather in the shower drain. Visitors are confronted with the uncanny experience of walking on human hair and their choice to enter the room or not. In their gestural marks, the blond, red, brown, black, white, and grey hair also bear a resemblance to Wolfgang TillmansFreischwimmer (“free swimmer”), photographs from the past decade that were created with light on photosensitive paper sans camera. Lee’s hair rugs also align with Lynda BenglisFallen Paintings (begun in 1968), brightly colored latex poured directly onto the floor, suggesting Lee’s position in the trajectory of Abstract Expressionism.

The walls of Lee’s space are plastered with glossy 4 x 6 inch drugstore prints of Instagram (a photo-sharing social network) photographs that are arranged in a seamless grid on three walls. The Instagram photographs are ordered chronologically and each four-inch column represents an approximate 30-minute fragment of 24 hours of Lee’s life. Rather than arranging information that fits into segments of time, the photographs function similarly to a slowed down documentary video of an artistic process. The majority of the prints are generic, deemed most popular by the Instagram algorithm at the moment Lee chose them. The artist appropriates these images by taking screenshots on her iPhone and superimposing a time code onto them. In such a way, Lee makes the values and desires of the public—shoes, meals, vacations, pets, clothes, cars, nail art, and lovers—her personal interests. The artist hints at cinematic narrative by splicing in “reels” of her life—images of personal failure via her own Instagram photos and those of friends and lovers. These disruptive personal documentary moments break the continuity of images that are generally pleasing and decisively composed for the general public’s consumption.

Lee’s thesis work fragments the idea of linear narrative and the notion of source imagery. Two of Lee’s videos directly reference several of the images in the Instagram feed: Bugabooboo (2011) and Sing Le No More (2011). In Bugabooboo, Lee plays the role of an apparent victim of sexual assault. The female character addresses the audience as her assailant, describing an elaborate and at times comically grotesque revenge plot to seduce the attacker with Jack Daniels in order to enact torturous violence on him with a George Foreman Grill. One of Lee’s most aggressive videos, Bugabooboo raises questions of who is victim and who is perpetrator. A section of the Instagram wall storyboards the objects “the victim” uses to victimize “the predator” in Bugabooboo.

Lee inserts 4 x 4 inch shelves into the grid, on which small-scale, sculptural, body-related objects display fingernail art created by the artist. The nail paintings are based on the work of great modernist masters and also feature the current despots of our news cycle: Hugo Chavez, Joseph Kony, Osama Bin Laden, Kim Jong Il, King Jong Un, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Benjamin Netanyahu. The nails and hair remind one of a beauty salon—a place where identity is created and maintained. Similarly, Instagram photos use hairstyles as a photographic trope to manifest individuality.

Her Instagram study exposes an uncanny banality, and an almost brutal succession of pictures where commodity fetish runs amok on a global scale. These timelines are broken by her personal narrative, indicating that the supposedly neutral canvas of social media sites are where we form both individual and group identities.

By Misa Jeffereis