On Lee Kit: A small sound in your head

Lee Kit, THIS IS THE WAY, STEP INSIDE. 
2016
acrylic on canvas, looped projection. Courtesy of the artist
Lee Kit, THE WALL TALKS, 
2016
. 2 digital prints, wall. Courtesy of the artist.
Lee Kit, SCRATCHING THE TABLE SURFACE, 
2006 – 2011, 
acrylic on plywood, readymade objects, photo document an 300 postcards. Courtesy of the artist.
Lee Kit, BETTY IS QUIET. 
2016, 
acrylic, emulsion paint, inkjet ink and pencil on paper, floor lamp and looped video projection. Courtesy of the artist.
Lee Kit, FUCK YOU
, 2016, 
acrylic, emulsion paint, inkjet ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
Lee Kit, IN THE SUN, 
2016, 
inkjet ink transferred on wall, plastic board and screw. Courtesy of the artist.
Lee Kit, BLUE ON WHITE
, 2016, 
emulsion paint on wall, looped video, window curtain and carpet. Courtesy of the artist
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Entering the exhibition space, the first thing we encounter is a wall, covered completely by a photo of another wall, on which hangs a coat that casts a rather eerie shadow. This confrontation with the photographic substitution of an object is exemplary of the direction Lee Kit’s work has been taking in the last few years: the mundane household objects he often used in his earlier installations have successively been replaced by their images – as part of projections, as prints, in his paintings, or in other forms.

TEXT: Martin Germann
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and S.M.A.K.

 

Lee Kit, THE WALL TALKS, 
2016
. 2 digital prints, wall. Courtesy of the artist.
Lee Kit, THE WALL TALKS, 
2016
. 2 digital prints, wall. Courtesy of the artist.

 

We can associate this image of a hanging coat with many things, but in the context of Lee Kit’s work the idea of a ‘pause’ comes to mind. He was born and grew up in Hong Kong, a metropolis where competition reigns in even the most hidden recesses of life, and his art symbolizes a non-productive attitude: a resistance born out of the rituals of everyday life. In this sense, Lee Kit’s spatial installations, which the artist himself often describes as ‘situations’, provide us with their own temporal economy, a time experience akin to spare time or, expressed another way, with “a positive form of delinquency or inefficient efficiency—a type of work that doesn’t fit into an economic model”.

This attitude, consistently adopted by the artist, takes visual form in one of the central works in this labyrinthine exhibition. Between 2006 and 2011, when he used his studio as his living space, Lee Kit often sat at a home-made table, his fingers repetitively scratching their way through the table top. In the same period, he sent several people postcards on which he had written only these words: I am scratching the table surface. This communication did not require a reply.

 

Lee Kit, SCRATCHING THE TABLE SURFACE 
2006 - 2011 
acrylic on plywood, readymade objects, photo document an 300 postcards. Courtesy of the artist.
Lee Kit, SCRATCHING THE TABLE SURFACE, 
2006 – 2011, 
acrylic on plywood, readymade objects, photo document an 300 postcards. Courtesy of the artist.

 

When Lee Kit describes his exhibitions as ‘situations’, he is among other things referring to an action taking place there. The many projections that are part of it depend on sunlight and on the time of the day, since most of the windows are left uncovered while others are protected only by curtains. These factors increase the sensation of action, but also create a dilated, meandering atmosphere of deceleration and permanence.

Lee Kit’s fragile and tender ‘situations’ remind us of pictures by the Dutch Old Master Jan Vermeer, whom Lee Kit admires for his decision to work on a modest scale and his slow pace of production, but also for his ability to reveal things that are close to life (for instance the insecurity of human beings), in contrast to the mainly religiously encoded themes of his time. In the same way, Lee Kit’s rooms are characterized by a poetic, physically tangible emptiness, beyond the realm of literal descriptions. They seem to touch on basic states of mind such as anger, sadness, fear or joy, and to analyse and spatially extend for everyone comprehensible emotions to which the artist’s oeuvre is essentially dedicated.

 

Lee Kit, BETTY IS QUIET. 
2016 
acrylic, emulsion paint, inkjet ink and pencil on paper, floor lamp and looped video projection. Courtesy of the artist.
Lee Kit, BETTY IS QUIET. 
2016, 
acrylic, emulsion paint, inkjet ink and pencil on paper, floor lamp and looped video projection. Courtesy of the artist.

 

Lee Kit’s works often show different kinds of visual or textual fragments. Product names or advertising slogans, often originating from cosmetic companies whose flawless faces look out from every corner in Hong Kong, appear in his films, projections, canvases and works on paper. But we also read quotes from the language of every day (such as ‘fuck you’) and textual extracts from pop songs, films and literature. In combination with these, we encounter simple household objects that carry the promise of a private space, or even of a better life. All these elements make up a central part of Lee Kit’s artistic vocabulary. The artist himself calls them ‘templates’. Interestingly, in the realm of printing, the technical term for a printing ‘template’ is a ‘cliché’ or, in a figurative sense, a ‘stereotype’.

 

Lee Kit, FUCK YOU
2016 
acrylic, emulsion paint, inkjet ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of the artist
Lee Kit, FUCK YOU
, 2016, 
acrylic, emulsion paint, inkjet ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

 

Recently, more faces have been appearing, and very often hands too, forming various gestures, still or in motion. Lee Kit points out that their “language is very sincere”, in the sense of a bridge language that is common to everyone and draws on a collective, universally shared memory. The theme of touching hands induces a physicality and directness that Lee Kit’s projections at the same time revoke. With balancing acts like these, the artist delves deeper into the dark matter that resides between things and their reproduction; and yet, in the end, his transference from material objects to their depiction simply represents a pragmatic form of ‘framing’ what is presented.

In general, the idea of ‘framing’ is very important to Lee Kit. He often installs his exhibitions in real time, not following a prefabricated plan. This opens up the possibility of reacting to architectural or other spatial hindrances by incorporating them, declaring them to be part of his room, by framing them. Simultaneously, the gesture of framing also creates distance: “Sometimes, by looking at things from a little further away, I seem to be able to understand what I initially did not understand.”

Lee Kit - In the sun
Lee Kit, IN THE SUN, 
2016, 
inkjet ink transferred on wall, plastic board and screw. Courtesy of the artist.

 

Lee Kit studied fine arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Ideas he picked up during his studies that revolve around painting are still an essential inspiration for his work. The artist sometimes describes his exhibitions as three-dimensional canvases, characterized by the fundaments of painting: light, perspective depth and composition. But in his work, pictorial space, as it is called in the established literature, manifests itself in real space: walls and projections, carpets and objects, even visual obstacles – everything is of equal importance in his spatial compositions. The exhibition A small sound in your head unfolds in space as a meticulously composed installation comprising several singular works.

Lee Kit’s real-time, in-situ working method seems to accord with a certain pragmatism that prevails in Eastern thinking. It is not to be traced back to the thing’s essence or origins, but to its changeability. The aim is to recognize the fluctuating course of things, to adapt on the basis of the situation, and to draw benefit from this mentality. Perhaps this explains why Lee Kit so openly embraces coincidence in his practice. But by pronouncing the exhibition space to be a three-dimensional canvas, the artist also liberates himself from external authority. For which curator would dare to lay hands on the artist’s work? By means of this deft appropriating move, Lee Kit creates a space for himself, which – although it is open to us, the visitors, who can become an intimate part of it – in its entirety remains opaque and impenetrable.

 

Lee Kit, BLUE ON WHITE
2016
emulsion paint on wall, looped video, window curtain and carpet. Courtesy of the artist
Lee Kit, BLUE ON WHITE
, 2016, 
emulsion paint on wall, looped video, window curtain and carpet. Courtesy of the artist

 

The artist’s method leads into the realm of two religious ways of thinking between which his work balances: Eastern and Western doctrines are fundamentally different, being rooted in Confucian and Christian traditions respectively. The Western idea of a beginning and an end (and originality) is in stark contrast to the Eastern idea of an endless stream of events. “A Chinese masterpiece never remains the same. The work itself is subject to perpetual transformation, open to perpetual annotation. It is never at peace with itself or finished, but rather in a constant state of flux.”

In this sense, the title of Lee Kit’s exhibition – A small sound in your head – alludes to an unfinished story entitled The Burrow by Franz Kafka, a writer the artist greatly admires. The story leads into the abysmal depths of that part of the European cultural heritage that involves dystopia and existential anxiety. In The Burrow’s inner monologue, full of questions and contradictions, a creature that is described only sketchily shares its intense thoughts on its life’s work: a subterranean shelter. The optimization of this burrow, essentially built for security, takes on a life of its own or, put more mundanely, becomes a full-time job that leaves its creator ‘perpetually obsessed’. The excavated cave soon branches out into an almost endless labyrinthine network of small round cells, chambers, storerooms, passages and cross-passages, and yet remains “by no means enough”.

The construction of this burrow itself can be read as an analogy of Lee Kit’s artistic practice, and the continuous act of framing and extending situations and depictions, which is what Lee Kit’s practice essentially is, is also analogous to an endless process of understanding. At the same time, the fears and pleasures expressed by the character in Kafka’s story reflect many of the themes which Lee Kit’s art ultimately deals with, including the dual nature of dedication itself. Kafka’s unfinished story ends with “an almost inaudible whistling noise”, which the creature finds so impossible to locate and which it was trying to escape in the first place. In the end this is perhaps just a simple sign of life as such, with all its challenges. And the subject of Lee Kit’s art is nothing less than this.

 

 

Lee Kit
A small sound in your head
28 May – 04 Sep 2016
S.M.A.K gallery, Gent, Belgium

 

About the Artist

LEE KIT (李傑)
Born in Hong Kong in 1978, Lee Kit lives and works in Taipei and Hong Kong.

His recent solo shows include Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, MN (2016); A Small Sound in Your Head, S.M.A.K, Gent, BG (2016); He Knows Me, Massimo De Carlo, London, UK (2016); Hong-gah Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (2016); The Voice Behind Me, Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (2016);  Lee Kit, Monther’s Tankstation, Dublin, Ireland (2015); Faithless, Observation Society, Guangzhou, China (2015); How are things on the West Coast?, Lombard Freid Gallery, New York, USA (2014); etc.

Lee Kit also participated at group shows and biennales include Sharjah Biennial, Sharjah Biennial, Sharjah , United Arab Emirates (2015); The Great Ephemeral, The New Museum, New York, USA (2015); Room Service, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden Baden, Germany (2014); Ten Million Rooms of Yearning: Sex in Hong Kong, Para/Site, Hong Kong, Hong Kong (2014). etc.

Lee Kit represented Hong Kong at the Venice biennale in 2013 with the solo show You (you)., Hong Kong Pavilion, The 55th Venice Biennale , Venice, Italy.

Artist’s website : http://www.lee-kit.net/

 


Martin Germann is the Senior Curator at S.M.A.K.. Between 2008 and 2011 Martin Germann has been Curator at kestnergesellschaft Hanover. He has worked on solo exhibitions and publications with artists like Michaël Borremans, Michael Sailstorfer, Larry Sultan, Aaron Curry, Julian Göthe, Elke Krystufek, or Joachim Koester. From 2010 to 2012 he was part of the curatorial team for ‘Made in Germany Zwei’, a survey show of young international art at kestnergesellschaft, Kunstverein Hannover and Sprengel Museum. Before working for Buero Friedrich, Berlin (2006-2007) he was responsible for the programme of Gagosian Gallery, Berlin, a project space of the 4th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art (2005-2006). At the 3rd Berlin Biennial (2003-2004) he coordinated five thematic spaces within the Biennial. As a frequent contributor for exhibition catalogues and magazines he has written on artists such a.o. as Kai Althoff, Dirk Braeckman, or Mathias Poledna.

 
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