Josephine Lee: Practice until you feel the language inside you

APRIL 3 – MAY 31, 2021

Curated by Tanya Gayer

Read the exhibition review written by Sara Lee Burd for BURNAWAY

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is I-Think-I-Canada-I-Know-I-Canada_1sm-1024x576.jpg
Josephine Lee, I think I Canada, I know I Canada, still from performance video, 13:21m, 2018

If you had to define your idea of home in one sentence, could you do it? Could you communicate how you belong and feel whole in this place as efficiently as possible?

In Josephine Lee’s exhibition, Practice until you feel the language inside you, the artist utilizes the tools of futility and humor to challenge the rules in which connection to environment, culture, and citizenship are established and known. Lee has taken up residence throughout the United States, South Korea, and is currently based in Canada within the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Currently on view at Unrequited Leisure Gallery, Lee’s work I think I Canada I know I Canada, displays the artist with an oversized banner in a vast snowy landscape where she works towards and against displaying the banner in its entirety.

Named in partial reference to the children’s story about labor and ethics, The Little Engine That Could, Lee’s title of the video and performance work comments on the nature of language and how the mastery of it can be a disingenuous marker of cultural acceptance and inclusion within a national identity. Importantly, the title of the work, I think I Canada I know I Canada, is purposeful in its grammatical errors. To build upon this titling choice, as Lee runs across the scene from right to left in the video, the entirety of the banner and its text is never seen because the artist cannot quite run fast enough nor does she have the aid of wind or inclines within the landscape for the banner to fully take flight. Her communication thus remains intentionally unclear here too. To further obscure the text, Lee deliberately tangles with the banner and swings and arcs the fabric in quick gestures. Eventually, her movements slow and her exasperation is audible. Lee reckons with a symbolic form of lived experience in a landscape that has no distinct markers or vegetation to locate the artist in time and place; the transferability of the environment pivots Lee’s individual movements into actions that other bodies take on as well. Her labor in this ubiquitous location references more broadly the effort of immigrant communities to manifest acceptance in places they call home and the artist questions if language dexterity or hard work could ever usher true feelings of belonging.

Our guest curator, Tanya Gayer examines history-making processes embedded in archives, databases, governmental assimilation efforts, and algorithmic categorizations. She studies the records and stories involved with these entities to realize the impact they have in forming identity and culture.

For Gayer, Lee’s work utilizes the tools of futility and humor to challenge the rules in which connection to environment, culture, and citizenship are established and known. For this exhibition, Gayer has selected Lee’s video, I think I Canada I know I Canada, a performance that Lee says, “underscores the disjointed and oftentimes grammatically incorrect English of immigrant peoples and the fallacy of the title phrase in relation to identity and individuality.”

Artist Bio: Josephine Lee holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in science and fine arts. She is the recipient of a BC Arts Council Artist Scholarship Award, the University of British Columbia Medal for Fine Arts, and the President’s Scholarship for Parsons School of Design in New York. Lee has exhibited and curated shows in Vancouver and New York, as well as exhibited in Maine, Washington DC, and documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany. Recently, she was awarded the Oscar Kolin Fellowship, the Sparkbox Emerging Artist Residency, the Vera G. List Sculpture Award, and a Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Outstanding Artist Award at the BANFF Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Curator Bio: Tanya Gayer is based in Oakland, CA. Her curatorial projects have been exhibited at Root Division; Hubbell Street Galleries; Sonoma Valley Museum of Art; The Internet Archive; Gray Area; CTRL + SHFT; among others. Her writing has been published in Daily Serving, in exhibition catalogs associated with the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art; CULT Exhibitions; Holland Project; Pro Arts; and Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Gayer has lectured at UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, California College of the Arts, and at the CODAME Art + Tech Festival #ARTOBOT. Gayer received her dual masters degree in Curatorial Practice and Visual + Critical Studies from California College of the Arts and her BFA from University of Nevada, Reno. She has contributed to programming and curatorial projects at institutions including Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Brian Gross Fine Art, Soundwave, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.