1 - 17 May 2008

Stone Lee

Lee will use newspaper to sculpt a group of popular animals, such as a sheep cow, and lion, in imitation of a soft toy but on a larger scale. His work addresses the act of representation and the role of the signifier in understanding meaning.

No Hypocritical Rubbish: in/out of the Western Perspective is a new body of work by artist Stone Lee. Taking its cue from the thought of 19th Century American essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, No Hypocritical Rubbish seeks to understand the role of the artistic gesture apropos the object. Emerson’s philosophy of art in many ways pre-empts Conceptualism, dismissing the art object as superfluous.  Emerson finds particular disdain for sculpture: inferior to the forms of the natural world, it amounts to no more than a childish project of fabrication. The art object has resonance only as a path to unveiling the forms of everyday life; all else is “hypocritical rubbish”. (1)

Comprising just three objects, No Hypocritical Rubbish, challenges this summation, raising sculpture to a kind of ‘banal sublime’: neither mimetic nor expressive, both something more and something less. Three familiar animal forms – a reindeer head, a donkey, a sheep – have been fashioned from simple materials of glue and found newspaper. Oversized and docile, the sculptures do not espouse fine technique or visual appeal: in their absurdity they are utterly unremarkable. Newspaper began to feature in sculptural works as a consequence of Cubist experimentations with collage. Incongruous as it was to cut and reconfigure newsprint, this simple shift was to recalibrate the paradigm of modern art.(2) Not only had everyday things trespassed into the ascetic space of painting, so too had language. Collage fast became a three dimensional process, as ‘assemblage art’, the recombination of existing objects into new totalities problematised the borders of ‘sculpture’.(3) What purpose could be served now in conjuring these objects to existence?

In one sense Lee’s work renders comical the artistic lives of things: from the ‘world’, to representation, to the nil status of the gallery – what Arthur C. Danto termed the “optical duplicity” at the centre of art, post avant-garde.(4) Lee’s sculptures give material form to Emerson’s rebuke, literally becoming childish toys. But it would seem to me more precise to say that what is at stake is ‘the thing’ – the place where language falters. It is well known that Slavoj Zizek, reinterprets Heidegger’s notion of ‘de-concealment’ – the unveiling of the ‘thingness of the thing’ – as a deconstructive movement leading precisely to no ‘thing’ at all.(5) Rather ‘the Thing’, in Zizek’s recasting, designates a lapse in the word, a “silence” that defines the contemporary subject’s relationship to objects: the difference between the sublime and the ordinary is a matter of the indefinable void of signification.(6)

Is ‘thingness’ the sole conceptual parameter left to contemporary sculpture? Lee has developed a practice that questions both the artist subject and the objects fashioned under the auspices of ‘art’. Nothing speaks of the refuse of contemporary culture as does the ubiquitous residue of the daily newspaper. No Hypocritical Rubbish is a timely reminder of the ethics of the artistic gesture and the very contemporary concern of the status of the object.

Nella Themelios - 2008