Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee. The Syncretic Agora Of The Song Or Nothing Happened. I Burst Apart. Now The Fragments Have Been Put Together Again By Another Self, 2021. Video stills. Color, sound. 17:35

Andrew Lee. The Syncretic Agora Of The Song Or Nothing Happened. I Burst Apart. Now The Fragments Have Been Put Together Again By Another Self, 2021. Video stills. Color, sound. 17:35

BIOMASS: Welcome! I have so many questions, there are so many things, I fell in love with this video work... the lone salsa dancer in the park, children signing and singing a Kate Bush cover, intermittent poetry! monuments, seasons.. a motorcyclist having an emotional breakdown. It was surprising and immediate while also bringing in slowness and momenst of archival footage. So this video artwork, The Syncretic Agora of the Song or Nothing Happened. I Burst Apart. Now The Fragments Have Been Put Together Again By Another Self, carries within it’s title a reference to assembly and fragmentation, to sound, space and self. How did these ideas come together in your process?

Andrew Lee: Music or sound being my primary language, I wanted to make a video but I wanted to see if I could occupy the space of the moving image as maybe more like a songwriter. If we’re talking about the folk song writer, we’re talking about someone who is a storyteller and also someone who historically speaks in the first person. With certain songwriters, that “I” could be multiplicitous, you could be singing about yourself or you could be singing from the perspective of the other. So I was curious about the ability to have multiple perspectives and subjectivities. There is the  “unreliable narrator” but I was trying to think about multiple narrators existing within a work simultaneously. That was the starting point of how I approached this work in particular. On a formal level I was interested in montage. And because of the way I work within an installation space, the basic strategy of putting one thing next to another thing to see what resonates made sense to me. Within a video editing timeline, I was thinking about the distance between two things and how that space can create possibilities. Like the “pocket” in music or “the turn” in poetry. When the rhythm section of a jazz band is “playing in the pocket” you would characterise the song as having its own sense of time. In poetry, the “turn” happens at the end of each line break. The space between the sentences that is absent of language but a space of imaginative supplementation. So in the video I was trying to set up these kinds of formal strategies that allowed for multiple vantage points and perspectives. I kind of invite people to be editors in the work as well. And so there are aspects of the work that I’m ok with people being drawn to more than others, while some aspects of the work might contradict other aspects. So this is sort of an insistence on a multiplicitous type of reading of the work, rather than one singularity.

I don’t see it as that complicated of a concept because I think about the scroll on instagram, or news feeds on the splash page of the NY Times - our minds have the capacity to jump from one region of the world, to an advertisement to an op-ed. Our minds have this capacity to jump and leap and create associations and we are exercising this ability all of the time.

The Syncretic Agora Of The Song Or Nothing Happened. I Burst Apart. Now The Fragments Have Been Put Together Again By Another Self, 2021. Video stills. Color, sound. 17:35

B: Parts of the video behave like gaps or spaces, especially these simple shots in the film that show brief gestures of the seasons and weather, they create a kind of rhythm for the work. I also noticed themes between the language and images that connect to these forms as well, one that stood out as perhaps a simultaneous question and statement was “how to become a passage”.

A.L: When I think about what a passage is, I think about the space of a threshold. Going from one space into another, there's a passageway, there is a threshold that is crossed. That sort of phenomenon is happening in the video quite often. A lot of things I experienced growing up end up informing how I do things within my practice. I grew up having my parents take me to church every Sunday. And I think about what it is that we’re doing on a phenomenological level when we go to church. To collapse the distance between our fleshly bodies into a spiritual dimension or to a god and try to commune with that. I lost my father ten years ago, and that type of phenomenon too has resonance - what is happening when you attend a funeral? Which is also often in a church. I think about that kind of collapsing of distance between oneself and a loved one. I think that also connects to the idea of migration, people living in a diasporic consciousness – imagining a life and home and a sense of belonging that is neither here nor there. So, I think about passage as the space for a lot of my thinking to exist in.

I wasn’t so much interested in beginnings or endings but was interested in time and how we can alter the body. And that again connects to my lived experience of going to church. My family would always show up to church late *laughs* because we would always get a McDonalds breakfast before church and always arrive late. This experience of hearing the service happening before entering the space required me to alter my body to enter into the space - open the doors, come into something mid-stream. By presenting the video via a livestream, I was thinking of ways that I could create its own sense of time for the viewer to step into.

B: That makes sense now, it was a question, but I understand now it's a continuous loop that establishes a different preciousness of time. It’s not always available and exists with some intention as to when people can experience it.

A.L: … Those moments that kind of umm, well when I think of a landscape, I automatically think about it in an anxiety ridden neurotic sense, I think of it as creating a sensitivity. When I’m looking out at the ocean, I want to be present with nature, but often all I can think of are my own thoughts.

B: I guess right now, there is no shared media experience the way there was perhaps 20 years ago, when TV shows were only on at certain times. And in some ways that's more reflective of what our society is, it's not that site-specific. Part of this project, I’m trying to draw out what it is that becomes a buoyant quality in an artist's practice, and similarly what each artist has learned to let go of, edit or ignore. And this video does seem reflective of what I know of your practice whether it's drawings or video or music -  How would you say working in this way, elevates your life or energizes you?

A.L: There are so many things, that’s such a great question we don’t often talk about. We want to talk about the theoretical reasons why you make a certain work, the art historical contexts or something like that. For me a lot of my installations are also montages, collages or assemblages and so, I’m really excited when someone experiencing the work of art can feel that they can act as an agent, with the ability to edit the content of the work. That’s achieved on a fundamental level by having three images instead of one, or calling a video a song, having multiple senses and temporal registers. If I had to characterize different things I’m really excited about, it's the ability to create the circumstance or conditions where someone feels like they have the ability to make decisions with the work, with the materials or alongside me, on different registers. That involves having to let go of the possibility of failure – or that failure or ambivalence is a part of making this type of [art] situation.

B: Yeah, I see.

A.L: The thing I’m interested in most is tone and mood. I think that is ultimately the kind of state that we are always in and the thing we are always trying to either manipulate or control. For example, I think about a lot of what I do as soundtracking, creating a type of mood or tone that has a bearing or impact on your present moment. And that can be achieved in a lot of ways, but on a fundamental level when I think of putting objects in a space, I think about how in a living room in our own homes you can have ikea furniture, or an antique piece, or a hat you got from Disney world, or a photo of your grandmother, all these things are constructing a tone or mood that gives you a certain type of feeling. I think when people come into my work, I'm happy if a mood is experienced. I think content is always going to be highly specific, and I know that not everything is legible in my work and I know that some things are essentially going to read very differently to someone else, and I’m ok with that because my first and foremost interest is in creating a tone or a mood.

Andrew Lee. The Syncretic Agora Of The Song Or Nothing Happened. I Burst Apart. Now The Fragments Have Been Put Together Again By Another Self, 2021. Video stills. Color, sound. 17:35

B: So if that is more motivating, how would you describe aspects of being an artist that are less inspiring and that you’ve learned to edit out.

A.L: Using found footage and found objects I’m already inherently inviting other authors into the work, the thing that I’m less interested in is having some sort of authoritative voice. I'm interested in intertexuality and collaboration. When you play in a band, and you’re jamming for example, deciding who the author of that work is a very complicated thing to do. When I’m working alone in the studio I feel as though I am in dialogue with a lot of my influences and my peers.

B: There is agency in that as well which people don’t talk about because it’s seen as devalueing individualistic inspiration or something. Being in relation with others or perhaps acknowledging it forces you to look at your work in different ways. For example, what can be conveyed and shared with friends, peers and family, seems more closely attuned to a works value.

A.L: And in my experience, these types of exchanges are what allows the art object to have a meaningful impact on our lives.

B: Now that you're a new father, working as an artist, starting to raise a child, how has that reconfigured the balance of your art and life? Or has it broken it apart to reassemble?

A.L: Priorities is a big word we use in our family now. But you know, I’m also realizing that if I’m not thriving in my universe – that is being an artist – If I'm not in that space I have very little to give my family. And so my partner and I, we both talk about how important my practice is and in order for me to be able to feel like I have life in me, to show up in a full way, rather than feeling like this is taking away from my life, I need to maintain a sense of wonder and joy that I get from being in the studio so that I can show up as a caregiver for a child. For the first two months, this child was just crying in my face *laughter* but now she’s got this big personality and its so fun to play with her, but up until this point it was just about eating, pissing, shitting and *sighs* crying… So in order for me to show up in a meaningful way, to take care of a baby, I have to feel like I still have an aspect of my personality that is vital. And that's something I think we’re all responsible for, to create that space where we can do the thing that we want to be doing.

Andrew Lee. The Syncretic Agora Of The Song Or Nothing Happened. I Burst Apart. Now The Fragments Have Been Put Together Again By Another Self, 2021. Video stills. Color, sound. 17:35

Andrew Lee is an artist whose work encompasses sound, video, drawing, photography, sculpture and installation. He is based in Brooklyn, NY and Vancouver, Canada.

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