Lindy Lee (1954- ) is a senior Sydney based artist associated with appropriation practices of the 1980s and early 1990s. Lee's works from this period comprised of grid ded photocopied details from old master portraits, overlaid with veils of paint and sometimes splattered with ink and wax. They considered our cultural distance from European 'masterpieces' as well as the aura of an original and our experience of it through ubiquitous reproductive technologies.
From the mid-1990s onward Lee's questioning of cultural authenticity became a personal frame of reference for exploring notions of identity, displacement, transition and spirituality. The artist began to draw on her post-revolutionary Chinese heritage/ post-war Australian upbringing, explaining 'in addition to being falsely European, I came to realise I've been a false copy of a Chinese person...I felt like a white Australian although I didn't look like one; whereas at a Chinese club with my family, for instance, I looked like everyone there but didn't feel like them' (Lee quoted in Australian Art Collector, no 26, October/December 2003, p 57).
Lee's large-scale installation 'Birth and death' 2003 comprises of around 100 concertinaed Chinese accordion books extended on the floor in rows. Chinese accordion books are a traditional writing material used in Buddhist scripture that evoke multiple references in 'Birth and death' 2003. Firstly, to the instrument, which was spruiked by the People's Liberation Army as a form of entertainment during the 1940s. And secondly, to the photo album or even the passport, with each one unfolding to depict multiple portraits of living and deceased family members, friends, and even pets, at various stages throughout their life.
These images have been produced from copying photographs, and as such they exist in various degrees of light and dark, almost to the point of abstraction. The overlaying monochromatic red is emblematic of Imperial China and the Cultural Revolution.
The fading in and out crowd of portraits in 'Birth and death' 2003 links history, people and memory together across time and space in pondering, through the minimalist language of seriality and the artist's understanding of Buddhist cosmology, the impermanence and interconnectedness of life.
Birth & death
synthetic polymer paint, inkjet print on Chinese accordion books
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of the artist 2014. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Not on display
© Lindy Lee. Licensed by Copyright Agency
Shown in 7 exhibitions
Lindy Lee: Birth & death, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Paddington, 19 Jun 2003–12 Jul 2003
Image and imagination, Centre d’Art Amherst, Montreal, 08 Sep 2005–10 Oct 2005
Sunshine state smart state: Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, Fiona Foley, Lindy Lee, Tracey Moffatt, Ken Thaiday, Thanakupi, Judy Watson, William Yang, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown, 06 Jul 2007–26 Aug 2007
Sydney to Sookmyung, Sookmyung Women's University, Seoul, 17 Nov 2011–29 Nov 2011
Lindy Lee: the dark of absolute freedom (2014-15), University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, 20 Sep 2014–22 Feb 2015
Conversations through the Asian collections, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 25 Oct 2014–13 Mar 2016
The 1818 Project, Newcastle Art Gallery, Newcastle, 08 Sep 2018–04 Nov 2018
Referenced in 6 publications
Michele Helmrich, Lindy Lee: the dark of absolute freedom, 'From darkness to light: pathos and reverie in the work of Lindy Lee', pg. 15-44, Brisbane, 2014, 25, 86, 87-90 (colour illus.), 91, 140.
Martha Langford, Image and imagination, 'Emanations: Susan Butler, Lindy Lee and Arthur Renwick', pg. 195-200, Montreal, 2005, 195, 196, 197 (colour illus.).
Heidrun Lohr, Australian art collector, 'The many faces of Lindy Lee', pg. 54-57, Sydney, Oct 2003-Dec 2003, 57.
Look, 'Zen and the art of flinging bronze', pg. 8, Sydney, Aug 2015, 8.
Sunshine state smart state: Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, Fiona Foley, Lindy Lee, Tracey Moffatt, Ken Thaiday, Thanakupi, Judy Watson, William Yang, 'Artist pages: Lindy lee', pg. 25-27, Campbelltown, 25, 26 (colour illus.), 49.
age.com.au, 'Photo of wife wins national portrait prize', Melbourne, 06 Dec 2007, n.pag. (colour illus.). photograph taken by Lee's husband Rob Scott-Mitchell of the artist meditating in the middle of the installation.