What is my work about?
My work explores the need to see things that may not really be there. Working mostly in sculpture and photography, I am interested in disrupting supposedly objective methods of measurement to open up the possibility of alternative epistemologies. By confounding material and visual expectation, I create a state where logic and intuition press up against and are molded by each other, prolonging the translation of sensory information into understanding. The often subtle unwinding of the work is not intended as an untethered contemplative koan but is crafted with an awareness of the absurdity in trying to always reconcile reason with gut feeling.
There is a way in which we as human beings are hardwired to look for patterns, faces and meanings within our everyday experience. This pareidolia is a survival instinct – to be able to recognize a friend or foe – but also to make the world intelligible, somehow knowable. My work explores this need to see things that may not really be there, the desire to find meaning within a vast array of experience and random data. I am not so much interested in making these patterns or faces explicit but rather in creating a circumstance in which the viewer might be nudged toward an awareness of this impulse. By contradicting and disrupting supposedly objective methods of measurement, I recognize the potential existence of other epistemological approaches.
Working mostly in sculpture and photography, I am interested in confounding material and visual expectation to create a space where logic and intuition press up against and are molded by each other. My work prolongs the process of translating sensory information into understanding by engaging with and undermining certain assumptions about perception, natural phenomenon and materiality. Objects should be heavy but they feel light, they should fall down but they don’t. Things curl up and wick away and exert too much force when it seems they shouldn’t. They reach, drop, and slip away from their confines, suggesting some hidden influence or agenda just beneath the material surface. What appears to be true of one piece is mirrored and undone in the next.
This often subtle unwinding of the work is not intended as an untethered contemplative koan but is crafted with an awareness of the absurdity in trying to always reconcile reason with gut feeling. I find inspiration in instances where scientific discovery and technology are infiltrated by superstition and mysticism. As the boundaries of knowledge are pushed ever further out and in (Kuiper belt to pentaquark) I consider the still unknown, and for every enhanced pixel seek a spectre, numinous and irrational.
No matter how distorted or abstract, photography is always tied to a specific time and place. But as André Bazin suggested, a photograph is both a fact and hallucination – based in reality by virtue of its indexical nature but only ever a shadow of its referent. When working with light-sensitive chemicals, sometimes the sculptures are left unfixed, impermanent, to dry up and expose indefinitely over time (Under the Ghost, 2014). Other pieces are flattened and fixed, capturing temporary form and turning it into an image – a trompe l’oeil homage to classical drapery, blessed mantles, and stage curtains (Untitled, 2015). In the tradition of nature morte, Espirit de l’escalier, 2014, consists of a white flower in an opaque ceramic vessel. Over the course of a day, the flower draws up a photosensitive liquid from within the vase, turns blue and dies, to be replaced by another. Dying or dyeing.
Art, in mixing the known and the sensed, the natural and the artificial, can awaken a heightened awareness of the processes that happen around us. My work hones this dulled instinct for intense looking, a type of seeing that gives pause.
2014 – SUNY Purchase College, New York,
M.F.A. Visual Arts
2004 – University of California, Los Angeles,
B.A. Fine Art, Summa cum Laude
B.A. Art History, Summa cum Laude
Sixty Minutes, Vanity Projects, Miami and Vanity Projects, New York
Lilac Arts Series, Lilac Museum, Hudson River Park Pier 25, New York
Capitalist Architecture in a Post Humanist World, Millington Hall, The College of
William and Mary, Williamsburg VA
Chronicle, Scott Charmin Gallery, Houston
Whistle Stop: 2014 MFA Thesis Exhibition, Highline Loft, New York; Richard and Dolly
Maass Gallery, Purchase NY
In Real Life, Richard and Dolly Maass Gallery, Purchase NY
Potluck, Gallery 1019A, Purchase NY
If you see something, say something, Katzen Arts Center at American University, Washington DC
Divining Rod, Richard and Dolly Maass Gallery, Purchase NY
Recital, Gallery 1019A, Purchase NY
The Eagle Rock Rock and Eagle Shop, Los Angeles
Artists Merchandising Art, Wonderloch Kellerland, Los Angeles
9 Holes, Paredon Blanco, Los Angeles
ways/means, Paredon Blanco, Los Angeles
Cellar Show, Private Residence, Los Angeles
Heaven III: performance, art, music, Silverlake Lounge, Los Angeles
Heaven II: performance, art, music, Silverlake Lounge, Los Angeles
Heaven I: performance, art, music, Silverlake Lounge, Los Angeles
Thank Tank 2008: Going Public, Eighteen Thirty, Los Angeles
Horrorshow, Telic Arts Exchange, Los Angeles
MixCD for Telic, Telic Arts Exchange, Los Angeles
Speakeasy Prom, Not a Speakeasy, Los Angeles
Puppet Show II, Not a Speakeasy, Los Angeles
Puppet Show I, Not a Speakeasy, Los Angeles
TP, Not a Speakeasy, Los Angeles
Welcome, UCLA Undergraduate Gallery, Los Angeles
The Mom! I Love You! Show, UCLA Undergraduate Gallery, Los Angeles
I Love a Parade, UCLA Undergraduate Gallery, Los Angeles
Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, Juror Christina Fernandez, UCLA Wight Gallery, Los Angeles
Rock and Roll, Found Music, Los Angeles
Prizes and Awards
2014 MFA Project Grant, School of Art+Design, Purchase College NY
2013 Merit Scholarship, School of Art+Design, Purchase College NY
2012 Merit Scholarship, School of Art+Design, Purchase College NY
Messinger, Kate. “Art Talks with Karen Lee.” The WILD (October 14, 2014) [online].
Messinger, Kate. “What to See at Greenpoint Open Studios This Weekend.” The WILD (October 2, 2014) [online].
Hirsch, Faye and Karen Lee. “Whistle Stop: 2014 MFA Thesis Exhibition Catalogue.” SUNY, Purchase College. Purchase, New York.
A (Sculpture (Garden) Party), Private Residence, Los Angeles
Bulletin Board Show, Los Angeles
Fireplace Gathering, Private Residence, Los Angeles
Pool Show, Private Residence, Los Angeles
Hot Point: A Fridge Show, Private Residence, Los Angeles