Todd Richardson of the University of Nebraska at Omaha opens his essay (Richardson, 2020)with a fresh insight in his abstract, where he frames Nikki S. Lee’s  “Projects” into a folkloristic study: “.. a series of pictures in which the artist poses as a member of various subcultures and folk groups from an ethnographic perspective. “(“View of Serialization, Ethnographic Drag, and the Ineffable Authenticity of Nikki S. Lee”).

After the contemporary folklore element, Robinson mentions the importance and effect of the serialisation of Lee’s work:

“serialization that changes Projects from a collection of isolated performances into a complex assessment of the relationship between community and individuality.”(Richardson, 2020)

Where initially Lee’s work simply seems a series of selfies or selfie-like images, there is something invasive to the scenes. In all photos, Lee is very recognisable and seems the protagonist of the images/series. Indeed, there remains some reservation on her ability to blend in, to be part of the group:

“..regardless of her inability to blend in, the photographs manage to be deeply challenging due to the recursive relationship between her and the other..”

Looking at the images, indeed Lee’s distinctiveness becomes obvious looking at the series, not individually. Despite she stands out, not by her ethnicity or physique, the impression lives she belongs in the group. In reality, she must have been allowed as a visitor with a known project as motivation, not as group member or aspiring member.

Phil Lee of the Hongik University did an interview with Nikki S. Lee:

“Nikki S. Lee constantly seeks her identity in relation to others. Her exploration of the formation and change of individual identity with one’s exposure to community reaches the next phase as she investigates personal relationships.”(Lee, 2019)

“…The way I tried to answer that question was to look at others, those people around me, even if they are not directly related to me. To get to know where I am and who I am requires for me to see myself through the eyes of others, those who live their lives around me, a society to which I belong.”(Lee, 2019)

This not fully integrated noticeability is at the end the most interesting part of the series and makes it distinctive from the present selfie-like imagery. Nevertheless, I cannot help finding this work slightly caught up with time. Social media are really bombarded with social/ethnic group images and it is difficult to appreciate the work of Lee as such, despite her own motives creating the series and indeed some recognition thereof.

Trish Morrissey seems to taken things slightly lighter in her series “Front”. The concept itself looks more impressive than the execution. In this series, she takes the place of the woman in the group, mostly the mother figure, the latter then making in her place the actual photograph. The idea is to cross the borders of form and figure, shapeshifting. The repetitive character of the series only reveals this concept, any individual image without caption or introduction would be just what it is, a picture of a random group of people on the beach. Nevertheless, all images, despite the staged character of the scene, look very authentic, again, only the repetition of Trish’s physique in these images intrigue and generate numerous questions, never answers. David Barret enhances my finding when he writes:  “The resulting images, at first apparently mundane family snapshots, become unnervingly creepy as the same face appears again and again, raising issues around identity, coercion and photographic truth.” Barrett, D. (2009) 

The work of Lee seems mostly a search for identity but perhaps also a challenge to blend or at least to invade a group without really become a part of that group. Her limitation of one-month maximum seems logical in this context. So yes, curiosity and self-use can be seen as synonyms for voyeurism and exploitation, although not that harsh. 

I would probably not cooperate with Trish Morrissey easily. Strange enough it would strongly depend on the person and my personal mood at that time. I would find any such attempt to enter my private space unpleasant and invasive. My initial response would be rejective, irritated perhaps even? As is someone tries to sell something I do not want or are interested in. Perhaps my interest in photography would have helped, still not sure.

The series Seven Years instantly provides a feeling of an older family photo album, as she intended indeed. Her sister is the main model, mainly because “…she could hold a pose without questioning the character’s motivation.” (Morissey, n.d.) The awkward poses and expressions, the colours, the scenes, the clothes, everything is staged in perfection but still looking very authentic but with a weird, uncomfortable tone in the images. The fingers on the lens, the uncomfortable postures, the image of Morrissey making an image. They all contribute to old family images feeling and I can imagine it would bring back lots of memories and food for discussion about roles and relations within the Morrissey family, which was her goal with this series initially.

The photographs in “Seven Years” are the awkward pictures: fingers in front of the lens, eyes shut, unattractive body language. Pictures that would have normally ended up down the back of the sofa, or burned so that they would never see the light of day. —Trish Morrissey (Morissey, n.d.)

 

Bibliography

 

Artnet.com. (2018). Nikki S. Lee. [online] Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/nikki-s-lee/.

Barret, D. (2010). Winter Reading 09. Art Monthly, 332, pp.36–37.

Bunyan, Dr Marcus (2010). Review: `Expedition’ by shane hulbert and trish morrissey (ireland) at the centre for contemporary photography (CCP), fitzroy.

Cotter, H. (1999). ART IN REVIEW; Nikki S. Lee. The New York Times. [online] 10 Sep. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/10/arts/art-in-review-nikki-s-lee.html.

Lee, P. (2019). Indefinite “Nikkis” in a World of Hyperreality: An Interview with Nikki S. Lee. [online] Chicago Art Journal. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/36562232/Indefinite_Nikkis_in_a_World_of_Hyperreality_An_Interview_with_Nikki_S_Lee [Accessed 27 Oct. 2020].

Morissey, T. (n.d.). Seven Years – Photographs and text by Trish Morrissey. [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/trish-morrissey-seven-years [Accessed 2 Dec. 2020].

‌Richardson, T. (2020). View of Serialization, Ethnographic Drag, and the Ineffable Authenticity of Nikki S. Lee. [online] Iu.edu. Available at: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/ndif/article/view/4055/3693 [Accessed 27 Oct. 2020].

Trishmorrissey.com. (2020). Trish Morrissey. [online] Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-front/workpg-12.html [Accessed 3 Nov. 2020].

Vogel, W. and Vogel, W. (2020). Twenty Years On, Nikki S. Lee’s Shapeshifting Art Provokes Debates About Cultural Appropriation. [online] ARTnews.com. Available at: https://www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/nikki-s-lees-shapeshifting-art-cultural-appropriation-1202682096/.