Critics’ Picks

Dionne Lee, Surface Tension, 2019, solarized gelatin silver print, 8 x 10".

Dionne Lee, Surface Tension, 2019, solarized gelatin silver print, 8 x 10".

Oakland

Dionne Lee

Interface Gallery
486 49th Street
June 28–August 4, 2019

Dionne Lee’s images respond to the genre of landscape by pointing to its roots in property ownership, colonialism, and myths of the “natural.” She aims to uncover the fraught relationship of black subjects to the American terrain, and to reconstitute it. For example, in Test for Forty Acres, 2016, she covered a swath of land in mylar blankets, a protective gesture that also resembled an act of burial or a signal to the heavens.

In this show of new work, Lee shifts her focus from land to water, a more nebulous material with similarly charged connotations. The small black-and-white photographs in “Running, rigging, wading” are subdued and demand close inspection without offering the gratification of complete information. Created using found images that she manipulated, turned into digital negatives, and then printed in the darkroom, the pictures feel haunted. In A Place to Drown, 2019, a swimming hole, dark and ominous, was stretched out while being scanned to create a gaping painterly streak of seemingly infinite depth. In Floaters, 2019, a circle of figures lying on their backs at first recalls the compacted configurations required of Africans forced onto slave ships, but turns out to be synchronized swimmers.

Lee’s other pieces, in sculpture and video, are more suggestive of survival than loss. In the silent video Challenger deep, 2019, Lee walks through an overgrown field holding divination rods in search of water. Hanging from the gallery's ceiling by a pulley mechanism, a large rope handmade by the artist (Running, rigging, wading, 2019) shimmers with interwoven silver mylar strands. This object takes on new meaning as it is moved from land to water: Once a tool for anchoring, binding, or harnessing (as in the energy of wind), the rope is here suggestive of escape, elevation, and security.