Jane Lee, ‘SET ME FREE V’, 2015, STPI

Lee made a departure from painting by exploring the formal possibilities of paper during her residency at STPI. Concepts of liberty and entrapment are navigated in the motifs of birds and coils within her dynamic installation works, which combine print and paper with unconventional materials. Previously presented at Art Basel Miami Beach (2016), Lee’s ethereal series entitled SET ME FREE embody the very essence of these metaphors.

“I thought about paper, paper—tree, tree—birds. I’m exploring the idea of freedom and imprisonment using images of birds,” said Lee in an interview. Working around a narrative for the very first time, Lee invites viewers to meander through a fantastical yet familiar world of birds and nature – universal metaphors for freedom. Although she has adopted figuration in her material oriented practice, this body of work, according to curator June Yap, considers “not only the surface that is familiar of print-making, but also the corners, how different edges come together and even the paper itself, basically that which constitutes the materiality of print and papermaking.

Why the bird? In conversation with Lee, the bird in flight symbolises freedom and a lightness that certainly pervades these new productions. But lightness and freedom are relative, and thus it is the tensions inherent in these unspoken dichotomies that assume interesting shape within the artworks, such as in SET ME FREE with its paradoxically daisy-chained and thus tethered birds that are nevertheless in flight.

Certainly while the figure of the bird as emblem of freedom may appear on first glance as a truism, in Lee’s hands it embodies and affirms her practice as applied to print in more ways than one, as well as evincing the appropriateness of Lee’s choice. Within Lee’s range of artworks, the bird is not merely a bird but presents in material relations, in autonomy both symbolic and aesthetic, and in historical voice, the possibility of the final escape, even of the limits of form, as she as an artist, too, is known to do.

About Jane Lee

Jane Lee challenges what qualifies as a painting by using unorthodox materials, tools, and processes in her art. In a recent series of work, Lee approximated the form of a painting but refused to use canvas; instead she presented skeins of monochromatic thread assembled into wall-mounted rectangles and spilled onto the floor. In other works, Lee reduces painting to the gesture of impasto layers stacked in sculptural formations, suggesting painting is merely the application of one color on top of another. “Creating paintings using my hands without relying on other tools is fun. It is easier to be in control and it also allows spontaneous interaction with the paint texture,” she has said. “It has this very naked feeling and it is able to create interesting yet unexpected markings on the canvas.”