Victor Liu, CCCSF Research Fellow, writes some thoughts on the work of Summer Meiling Lee, including Fragile and Into the Nearness of Distance. This piece responds to a review of Summer's work written by Sara Boffito.
While much of Lee’s work at first brush seems to be about memory and the past, Bion's writing on intuition and subconscious thought -- its ephemerality and its immersive nature – suggests to me that Lee's exploration of the "single moment" that she undertakes in the project described in Boffito’s writing also applies to "Into the Nearness of Distance,” and likely her entire ouvre.
Although Lee explores her heritage and researches her family history for her work, nothing about “Into the Nearness of Distance” seems to rise to the level of "opacity" by which Bion characterizes memory and knowledge. Even in the very making of the exhibition, Bion’s idea of the subconscious thinking being non-definite and involving the experience of multiple viewpoints is echoed in Lee’s decision to make other artists’ interpretations of her grandmother’s relics equally as valid as her own, and for them to all work off of each other in the “exquisite corpse” proceedings. As to the exhibition itself, the immersive darkness and dim projections of light are anything but opaque. At every level, the exhibition is unstructured and amorphous, as if dream-like. Lee seems to be repurposing memory to become a sort of intuition, repurposing the opaque to become the ephemeral. The exhibition becomes not about the past, but about the very “single moment” of the present and how one navigates it, how space-time perhaps collapses into the moment that the viewer walks into the gallery with the lantern.
Boffito offers a beautiful psychoanalysis of Lee’s screen symbolism that I think sums up Lee’s artistic intentions greatly. The critical element in her described works is the screen. “The screen represents in a way the inevitable – necessary and sometimes excruciating – separation and, on the other hand, the space of projection of thoughts, images, subjectivities, that thanks to that same separation can exist and nourish each other.” From this, Boffito states that Lee, like contemporary psychoanalysts, believe that the screen itself, maintaining and repairing it and pondering its function, is far more important than the images projected upon it. In other words, thinking about the subconscious and conscious states and their divide is far more important than analysis of the contents of either. As such, Lee’s focus in Into the Nearness of Distance and her oeuvre beyond is not the literal content and imagery that our subconscious selves dredge up – the reproduction of exact memory, the physical relics of her grandmother’s journey -- but exploring the structures and mechanisms of our subconscious selves. She wants to encourage people like herself, estranged from their pasts and heritages, embrace the amorphous present.
With this, I pondering as well the role of the Visual Arts Center in guiding consciousness. CCCSF explores the propagation of such “single moments” in its participatory art, the art acting as an extension of their intuition rather than merely regard or behold it from a distance, as if the art were only a distant memory. Memories are quaint, but intuition has continuing relevance and use.