Los Angeles

View of “Jennie Jieun Lee,” 2017. Photo: Jeff McLane.

View of “Jennie Jieun Lee,” 2017. Photo: Jeff McLane.

Jennie Jieun Lee

The Pit

View of “Jennie Jieun Lee,” 2017. Photo: Jeff McLane.

Among the torso-like, vertically oriented ceramics placed at deliberate intervals throughout “Seizure Crevasse,” Jennie Jieun Lee’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, a pair of small sculptures situated in and near the gallery’s eponymous pit were the most ominous and compelling. At the bottom of a five-foot-deep, roughly eight-by-four-foot rectangular recess in the gallery’s cement ground (an architectural leftover from the space’s former days as a car repair shop), a modest abstract ceramic piece with a glossy, multihued glaze rested like a decapitated head in a grave. Hovering over the edge of the pit, another form—this one clearly figurative and bust-like, crowned with an amorphous crimson headpiece that turned to green as it bled down over a misshapen forehead and into slit eyes—presided over the makeshift crypt like a headstone. The works, titled The Witch, 2016, and Queen, 2017, respectively, were at once understated and potent, seemingly commenting on matriarchal power and mortality. And yet their abjectness seemed less about the feminine and more about the entropy of humanness, or maybe the arbitrariness of human ritual. Making clever use of the gallery’s preexisting features, Lee positioned these little objects for peak dramatic effect, disallowing a close-up view of their surfaces and instead making room for forensic or even sinister narratives. 

The depth of the pit was nearly doubled by a raised platform built from reclaimed wood, which covered the majority of the floor and created a pier-like pathway atop which viewers navigated the gallery. Built from tattered, paint-stained pieces of reclaimed wood, the structure mirrored the gallery’s ceiling of raw, exposed wood beams, resulting in a disorienting doubling of the space. Just as the recess prevented viewers from closely inspecting the ceramic heads, this raised structure kept bodies at bay, thrusting them away from four ceramics placed directly on the cement floor below it. Night Cavern, 2017, for example, a hand-built totem nearly seven feet tall, could only be seen from a distance; other objects were carefully placed at the edges of the path: Among these were Square Head, 2017, a flat, masklike piece that hung squarely perpendicular to the walkway, and Silent Activism, 2017, perched precariously on the margin of the raised path. This thoughtful arrangement created a push and pull that dictated the viewer’s proximity to the works, demanding an awareness of one’s own body in the space and of the fragility of each form. The path undoubtedly corralled the viewers rather than the objects, which seemed to have free rein over the environment. 

There’s little doubt that the artist was thinking of modes of social control when installing this show, and certainly the titles of otherwise abstract works offered further clues; the sculptures titled Public Transportation, Ribbon Around a Bomb, and Aftermath, all 2017, seemed drawn from our moment of global crisis—terrorism, paranoia, fear, and war. And as formal objects, Lee’s works reveal visceral, almost violent marks of making; they are bodily forms wrested open and disfigured, whose sick, tissuey glazes leak from fissures and orifices. They are psychologically laden, individualistic totems to collective anxieties.

Catherine Taft