An Interview with Susie J. Lee

Susie J. Lee, named Best Emerging Artist of 2006 by the Seattle Weekly, is one of the Pacific Northwest’s rising visual artists. Lee, who creates both Susielee_3 installation pieces and time-based video work, majored in molecular biochemistry at Yale before switching over to a career in art. Watch video of Lee’s time-based work here.

Centrum: Does your scientific training help your artwork?

Susie J. Lee: Within the process of developing work there is a constant flux of exploration and analysis. At first, it’s a little like wandering and getting lost, but then some kind of “experiment”  will stand out in its curiousness, and I’ll begin to hone in, quite methodically and rigorously, to create a cohesiveness and language to the work. So it is revealed in the practice; however, the central themes in the work, don't deal with scientific phenomena, and are much more about intimate and personal relationships. 

C: How does the process differ, if at all, from creating time-based works vs. creating installation pieces?

SJL: In many ways the processes are very similar. I think in a very materially-based and three-dimensional way, and concepts aren't driven by the technology. Video, light, and any technological components function in my practice in the same way as wood, paper, or clay to explore an idea. However, time-based work allows me to express the nature of transitions and passing in a much more immediate way.

C: What are your current projects?

SLJ: I have two projects in the works right now. The first one is for the new space of Wing Luke Asian Museum that opens in March 2008. It's a 40k commission to create an installation that incorporates the donors’ names within the entry staircase. It utilizes LED lights with a system of microcontrollers to create a pattern of “footsteps” that highlight names in a pattern that slowly walks up the stairs of the museum. The pattern of footsteps changes each time, so that at some point, each donor is individually recognized as a part of that path upwards. Visually, I was inspired by the imagery of support and guidance in the story “Footprints in the Sand.”

The other project is my first solo show at Lawrimore Project in the

fall of 2007. The work deals with the intrusion of those thoughts that come upon a person at night—regrets, illusions, sudden recollections, and what-if questions. There will be discreet pieces, installations, and possibly, a collaborative project that involves my projections with a movement artist.

C: What attracts you to basic, "earthy" elements in your work, like sand and fire?

SJL: When I switched from a career in science to art, I began in ceramics, which was quite fortuitous. The tactility and immediacy of clay, as well as its transformative properties, hone one’s material sensibilities. I think the warmth of materials is important for kinds of intimate interactions I want to express. I am most drawn to the kinds of sculptural explorations that draw out the inherent properties of materials, rather than ones which insist upon an imposition of one’s will on a material. I’d rather see what happens when a trickle of acid runs down a chunk of marble and use that reaction as a basis for a metaphorical language, than carve a likeness of something else out of it.