A Review of Jason Matthew Lee: Bromide Mayo at Crèvecoeur, Paris
The emerging art market is cluttered with Internet-derived and -based art, most of which is instantaneously forgettable. This art is like scrolling idly and aimlessly through web pages during a conference call. There are artists who sample images and then awkwardly recombine them into Rosenquist-esque paintings with little regard for content or technique. There are artists who strain to play with gaming technologies making video pastiches of tedious nothingness. Entertaining, meh. Enduring, no. It is 420 art. Then . . . there are the few artists working in and around technology and the Internet who have something to say, clearly and confidently. Jason Matthew Lee falls into this rarefied category.
Lee is best known for his reconfigured pay telephones, which are sculptural mini-monuments to the earliest technological hacks. His paintings mine significant Internet history, like Stuxnet, the malicious computer worm believed to be a joint Israeli-American effort to hack Iranian nuclear centrifuges. In another series Lee worked with images from the November 1972 issue of Playboy magazine. A detail from the centerfold -- the model's face -- was the image used to develop image compression, aka the JPEG (Google: "Lena Söderberg JPEG" to learn more.) The pornography industry was a major force for bringing photos and video to the Internet. The technological development of image compression soon benefited us all. Lee's interest in cyber and contemporary history, including hacking and socio-cultural events, confirms a real intellectual curiosity à la Seth Price. (See, for example, Price’s How to Disappear in America.) Lee likes the dark underbelly.
Lee's current exhibition at Crèvecoeur in Paris offers six paintings, a sculpture mimicking a modular retail store rack, and -- most importantly -- a 7-monitor installation with a visually addictive video loop. The video edition is the exhibition's molten core, surrounded by earnest attempts to push his paintings forward with a change of material. Rather than painting on canvas or linen as he has in the past, Lee has printed and painted on Dibond, using his signature text-spewing industrial print gun for embellishment. The first two brashly colored works are not as convincing as they are visually noisy. To each his own. The ideas in the other four paintings are considerably more successful and subversive; their execution is accomplished. Two figurative works look like nods to virtual reality games with a Amazonian protagonist. In the end they look like messed up screen shots. The details are greater than the whole. The exhibition's largest and most successful paintings -- "Beta" and "Bromide Mayo" -- are real statements, channeling Ed Ruscha from some alternate reality. These paintings require more inquisitiveness and sophistication from the viewer; the other works are not as commanding.
The centerpiece installation combines 7 used computer monitors of varying ages and manufacture that simultaneously play a 14-minute video loop. The scattered components are as assured as Jason Rhoades’s and Karen Kilimnik’s 1990s installations, whose seemingly randomness was always considered and calculated. Lee's configuration is equally precise. The video is worthy of comparison to the cultural history captured in Mark Leckey's Fiorruci Made Me Hardcore. A lengthy segment traces the failed 1986 trajectory of the space shuttle Columbia, from liftoff to implosion. It re-documents the catastrophic failure of technology. The video also samples from the blog Erowid.org, the mission of which is "Documenting the Complex Relationship Between Humans and Psychoactives." There is a lengthy confession about using 2C-B, an ecstasy-like drug and one of numerous psychedelics available on the Internet.
It reads, in part: “I went outside, smoked one of the biftas that I’d rolled, and then laid in bed (I was glad of my duvet when the ‘chills’ started to roll in), pulled the curtains and put on some chilled out tunes, started to play with the computer. I wear a digital wrist watch exclusively when tripping, because I never want to know what the time (real-time) is, but I find that the stopwatch function comes in very handy.”
This passage is practical information for watching the video. You let go and get lost in time. There are cameos by a tearful cartoon waif, a rustic double door, the exploding NASA shuttle, and a motorcycle burning in a grassland. The connections are uncertain but seem spliced into an autobiographical narrative. The overwhelming effect of the video and installation is riveting. They successfully anchor the exhibition, making something good into something really worthwhile.