By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Nikki S. Lee (born 1970, South Korea)
Nikki Lee changed to fit with her surroundings for her "Ohio Project."|
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She's been a yuppie, a drag queen and an exotic dancer. She's checked herself into a senior center, taken up skateboarding and turned herself into a young schoolgirl. She's been a Japanese slacker, a teenage Latina and a tourist.
She has documented these transformations with color snapshots.
"I think in some ways Nikki Lee's projects are one of the most honest, direct, sincere, risk-taking works on identity and difference that I have encountered in contemporary art," says Thom Collins, senior curator for the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art and curator of Somewhere Better Than This Place: Alternative Social Experiences in the Spaces of Contemporary Art.
Honesty is at the heart of what Lee does. She doesn't merely hang around and observe a particular group; she becomes a member. She assumes hairstyles, adopts mannerisms and wears the clothes that allow her to blend in.
A special eight-page section looks inside the new contemporary arts building. We also talk to the architect, Zaha Hadid, and to many of the people who made the center happen. Its curator, Thom Collins, and Enquirer arts critic Marilyn Bauer each offer five parts of the opening installation that shouldn't be missed.
"Her work is not about becoming someone else; it is instead an exploration of possible extensions of self. The artist believes that individual identity is porous, relational and dependent on context," says Rene de Guzman, visual arts curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
In Lee's world, you are what you do. Her self-portraiture is proof.
In the "Ohio Project," Lee, hair bleached blond, in shorts and a midriff-baring blouse, perches on the arm of a recliner with a bearded man and his rifle. On the wall above them is a Confederate flag with the slogan, "I Ain't Coming Down."
"The 'Ohio Project' typifies what she does," Collins says. "She honestly and without any kind of judgment engages groups of people who are very different, so she can learn about their culture and they can learn about hers."
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