Trap and Lean To, Light Work
at Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery Syracuse , NY
January 13 – March 7, 2020
“Oakland, California-based artist Dionne Lee employs video, collage, photography, and sculpture to explore American landscape and her place within its complex history. As an African American woman, she sees the natural world as both a place of refuge and tranquility, but also the location of racial violence, danger, and vulnerability. More broadly, her work acknowledges the terror of climate change, mass migration, and humanity’s ongoing drama of survival. Duality often surfaces in work where she notes that “two things can be true at once.”
Lee often manipulates found imagery in the darkroom in a process both organic and intuitive. The exhibition contains many fragments of photographs from her many wilderness survival manuals and vintage color magazines offering majestic views of “the great outdoors.” The survival manuals offer detailed, step-by-step directions on building a lean-to or foraging for food and water. Lee has become adept at these skills herself, thus reclaiming her connection to the earth and salvaging nearly-lost ancestral skills and knowledge. As the earth continues to shift beneath our feet, Lee asks what determines survival: not just who has what, but who knows how.
Lee’s darkroom practice has the same sense of intervention and disruption. With a forceful irreverence for the sacred silver gelatin printing process, she deconstructs photography itself. Lee draws with graphite directly on prints before and after she exposes them. She pulls negatives across the scanning bed to create painterly abstractions. She tears, crumples, solarizes, and double-exposes fragments of information, challenging both photography’s purpose and authorship along with any idealized and colonialist view of the earth. “