Friday, October 06, 2006

Skin Deep

Last night the MoMA debuted photographer Nikki S. Lee’s documentary entitled “a.k.a. Nikki S. Lee”. Lee, whose work consists of submersing herself in sub-cultures of society like Jewish-American women in Long Island, hip-hoppers in Harlem and trailer trash in Ohio, has been acclaimed by publications from the New York Times to the Art Journal. Myself being half Korean jumped at the chance check out what my generation of K-people is doing, especially when it comes to art and fashion. Unfortunately the closest I’ve come to tracing my roots is eating a bowl of kimchi, rice and bop (seaweed). Yum.

Miss Lee, clad in a non-fashionable black outfit looked diminutive and shy behind the large podium, explaining in broken English the premise of her short film. “This film is both real and fake,” she began. “It’s about the real Nikki and the fake Nikki,” referring to herself in the third person, which elicited several charmed laughs and nods of agreement. A perfect comment to what the film and the artist are, innocent and endearing but arrestingly smart.

A fairly small Asian woman, neither ugly nor pretty, neither fat nor slim, neither loud nor introverted, Lee emanated quirky contradictions. But what was most surprising to me was that she looked so normal. I’m not sure if I was expecting a disturbed eccentric artist or someone that was simply ultra-cool but she just looked like a regular Korean lady I’d pass on the corner of 34th and Broadway.

Even the film follows Lee doing “normal things” like window shopping, drying her hair and eating beef jerky. Yet there is more than what meets the eye. The film also shows Lee orchestrating her large-scale shoots, curating her gallery shows and discussing the inherent flaw of documentaries being “real”. At one point she quips, “The film is supposed to be about me being alone. I am not alone. I have a guy with a camera filming me.” Everybody laughs, because she wants you to laugh and you want to laugh.

The film does make fun. It makes fun of the collectors, gallerists and dealers that sustain her and it makes fun of herself. You find yourself laughing at the people that praise her work for no apparent reason, and then you realize, you’re one of those people. Are there cameras watching us? Will we be the butt of her next joke? But the thing is, she’s not mean. Although she quietly mocks these people, you feel she also loves them dearly. Even the most horrendously depicted people were sitting front row at her show.

Final Word: I’ve never seen an actual exhibition with Nikki S. Lee’s work, but I can’t wait to go. In fact, I’d love to own a Lee photo, perhaps one where she’s dressed in couture looking bored in at the Ritz Paris just because it’s so beautiful, but maybe I’ll wait until I’m cool enough and have a better reason than what meets the eye. Or maybe that's enough.

No comments: