By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
"Letters can be set in the holders inside the booth; you are invited to read those in unsealed envelopes. All the addressed letters are collected and mailed weekly, while those unaddressed or to the deceased will be ritually burned by the artist."
A subtle link to the positions of meditation in Ch'an Buddhism can be found in the slightly different configurations of the three booths. In the first you stand at the table holding the stationery. In the second there's a shorter table and a stool where you can sit. And in the third you can kneel on a mat before the low-slung table. These postures correspond respectively to the themes of gratitude, insight, and forgiveness Lee asks us to consider when writing our letters.
Some of the letters I observed were addressed to the artist himself, the museum, God, and various beloved friends and family members. One was from a wag who composed "a brief epistle directed at the few of you out there who don't infuriate me," with the letter reading simply "thank you." Most contents, however, were of a more intimate nature, coming from people who had taken the artist's solemn instructions much more seriously.
The final installation in the show is Reflections (1999), another wooden booth with doors at each end and a two-way mirror dividing the space in half. Again, Lee wants to prompt introspection: "As you enter either end of this long chamber, you experience the melding of your image with its reflection, or with that of the visitor occupying the opposite space. Questions of identity may come to mind: Who are we? Are we a composite construct of everybody around us? Do we have an a priori idea of who we are? What experiences do we carry within that define us?"
Some people may be put off by the touchy-feeliness of Lee's art. But he tempers the philosophical and spiritual ramifications of his work with an element of deadpan prankishness that's entirely in keeping with the paradoxes of Zen and Ch'an. (Check out his Website www.malepregnancy.com, which is a put-on so elaborately worked out that it's almost frightening.)
The questions Lee poses about the ways life and art overlap and interact may not be answerable in any literal, logical sense, but like Zen koans they prompt us to seek answers that make sense in other, more intuitive ways. I'm glad he has the aesthetic courage to raise such questions, and I'm equally gratified that the Museum of Art has provided him with a hospitable venue for practicing his peculiar but profound variety of art.