LINDY LEEThe Immeasurables, 2017, mirror polished stainless steel, LED lighting, 155 × 50 cm diameter each. Courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney.

The Seamless Tomb

Lindy Lee

Sullivan + Strumpf

Chinese-Australian artist Lindy Lee’s “The Seamless Tomb” is her first solo show with Sydney’s Sullivan + Strumpf gallery. Spread over two floors, this tightly curated show of new artworks explores two elements of Lee’s practice—her fractured Chinese ancestry and family’s relocation from China to Australia, and an exploration of her identity as referenced within a Buddhist framework. Lee’s artistic sensibility is inextricably embedded in Zen Buddhism, and the exhibition’s title refers to a Zen koan designed to provoke enlightenment, and it is this ongoing quest that occupies the majority of Lee’s work here.

Lee’s father left China for Australia in 1946 after the Japanese occupation during World War 2, and ahead of a civil war that resulted in Communist victory in 1949. Her mother and siblings followed in 1953, and Lee was born in Brisbane the following year. The ensuing fissure between cultures became pronounced, as Lee grew up in a period when the effects of White Australia policy, which effectively barred non-Europeans from entering Australia, could still be felt. The policy was incrementally dismantled between 1949 and 1973, and the social fabric of Australia made her acutely aware of her physical otherness well before the country fully embraced multiculturalism. This is a trope that informed much of her early work.  

LINDY LEEThe Seamless Tomb (Wearing An Iron Yoke That Has No Hole), 2017, ink jet print and Chinese ink on paper, 154 × 307.5 cm. Courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney.

Lee’s adoption of Zen Buddhism came later, in the early 1990s, and it became a way for the artist to revisit her ancestry and explore the Buddhist philosophy that touches every aspect of an adherent’s life. This left an indelible imprint on Lee’s artistic practice.

In an exhibition of otherwise abstract work, one piece stood out—it is three copies of a black-and-white photo of the artist’s family taken in 1946, showing Lee’s father, mother, brother and an aunt. The pathos-laden triptych revisits the days when Lee often used portraits of herself and her family to interrogate her cultural dislocation and identity. The triple duplication in The Seamless Tomb (Wearing an Iron Yoke That Has No Hole) (all works 2017) is touching, and underscores the original photograph’s emotional potency: At the time, her mother was pregnant with what was to be another brother.

LINDY LEEA Galaxy of Worlds Inside This Mountain, 2017, raw steel, fire, 202 × 405 cm. Courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney.

As Lee’s interest in Zen Buddhism grew, her work became grounded in abstraction until it eventually nudged aside all visual references to family, in pursuit of a greater philosophical quest to discover the concept of self. Aside from the triptych, all works in “The Seamless Tomb”—paper or steel—were pierced, perhaps reflecting the artist’s search for what lies beyond the surface of existence. Using the element of chance—a soldering iron burned thousands of holes in thick paper, and globules of molten metal were dropped on a prepared ground to create amorphous shapes—or fire from a blowtorch to penetrate sheets of raw steel as in A Galaxy of Worlds Inside This Mountain, Lee articulates her journey in search of an inner peace.

Although randomness plays an important role in much of Lee’s practice, the works that were on show in “The Seamless Tomb” are fundamentally and cohesively underpinned by the artist’s grasp of how order can be created from turbulent disorder. The works, like mantras, are concentrated numinous forms arrived at through a repetitive application of heat and fire—a process that is meditative and fulfilling for the artist.

If there is an underlying sense of Lee reaching for the stars, it is given tangible form in four sculptures that occupied the darkened upper-level gallery space. These enclosed forms are of polished, stainless steel illuminated by LED lighting from within, their lit apertures suggesting celestial formations. Titled The Immeasurables, each piece references an emotion—love, compassion, joy and equanimity—and hijacks the viewer’s intuitive response to the work. This ran contrary to the rest of the presentation, which was awash with Buddhism’s all-embracing spiritual and metaphysical cosmology.

LINDY LEE, The Immeasurables, 2017, mirror polished stainless steel, LED lighting, 155 × 50 cm diameter each. Courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney.

Lindy Lee’s “The Seamless Tomb” is on view at Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney, until October 14, 2017.

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