No one gets through childhood unscathed. Even those of us lucky enough to have good, loving families and stable home lives drag the weight of something unresolved to adulthood. For me it’s memories of school and being intimately connected with a large group of people with whom I wasn’t comfortable. It’s years ago now, but those wounds still occasionally flare up. Putting all your teenage energy in to ‘fitting in’ leaves a scar or two. The weird thing is that I appear to be remembered for my individuality, so I guess there’s truth in the saying that the harder you try to blend in the more likely you are to stand out. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Australian artist Lindy Lee knows about blending in and standing out. As the only non-white child growing up in Brisbane, she knows very well how deeply the pain of ostracism can run, and the art she creates reflects that. You can see it in her paper wall hangings, where each scorch mark holds the suggestion of wounds, and in the jagged voids in metal where hot rods and plasma cutters have eaten away the stainless steel. It’s in the vast wall mounted sculptures made from pouring molten bronze on the foundry floor, where each piece is sandblasted and hand polished to reveal the beauty within. They carry names that read like a mantra – Transcendent, Irreducible, Invisible, Immutable, and feel organic despite the industrial techniques used to make them.
Identity is at the forefront of her earlier works, which blend photocopying and painting to both replicate and obliterate. They feature Renaissance and el Greco inspired images in a state of transition, barely there and otherworldly. There’s a painting of her grandmother called Doctrine of the Golden Flower, where a pretty young face swathed in emotive purple and red stares out at you, and the expansive Nell and Every Little Thing featuring what Lee refers to as “the gestural splat.” Amassed together, they are a curious balance of violent intent and peaceful protest, calming and unsettling all at once.
Meeting Lindy Lee, you instinctively know there’s an edge behind her easy, unaffected charm. She is approachable, friendly and easy to talk to, but with a sharp mind and perceptive eyes. I suspect she sees through everything. A didactic panel in the exhibition tells the story of her failed attempt to learn calligraphy, a goal she abandoned when she realised she couldn’t submit to the discipline of ‘good’ brushstrokes. It seems a revealing insight into the awareness of self she possesses, and it’s captured again in the interview accompanying her current exhibition in which Lee discusses the beauty that can come out of our darkest moments. It is immensely empowering to become conscious of your own resilience. The serenity that emanates from Lee’s work is a tribute to her ability to reconcile the divided self, the complexity of being both Chinese and Australian, but feeling neither one thing nor the other.
This is the largest retrospective of Lindy Lee’s work ever staged, and has been sensitively curated by UQ Art Museum’s Associate Director Michele Helmrich. It is an intensely spiritual exhibition full of ancient elemental ritual, contemporary art practise and grand narratives of what it means to be human. I encourage you to see it.
Lindy Lee: The Dark of Absolute Freedom
UQ Art Museum
Until 22 February 2015