We’ll Be Watching You

“Every Breath You Take” (solo exhibition by Lee Kit)

Minsheng Art Museum (bldg F, NO.570 West Huaihai Road Changning, Shanghai) Nov 17, 2012 – Jan 2, 2013

Hong Kong artist Lee Kit has filled the white spaces of the Minsheng Art Museum with scenes from one bathroom after another. A blue cup sits upon a white metal rack in the corner, two colorful glass cups reflect the dim amber glow of the lights on the floor and the wall, the English logos of different cleaning products are faintly drawn on pieces of cardboard; a white laundry basket on the floor, a blue towel hanging off the rack….  Lee Kit has used these separate elements to transform one museum hall into a mysterious space of private grooming rituals and clandestine habits of personal hygiene. Thus the wintry, chilly expanses of Minsheng Art Museum are suddenly softened by imaginary billows of warm steam rising from each bathtub. Standing amid all this, perhaps our first impulse is to reach out and trace the surface of the mirror, wiping away the condensation to peer at the true face of an artist who has snuck into the secret space of our private ablutions and so poetically revealed the accoutrements of everyday life to us all.

Lee Kit strikes you as a classic Hong Kong type. His savvy countenance, rushed tones, Hong Kong-accented English, and rapidly improving Mandarin all give off the impression he is more suited to be a Japanese manga artist. Yet Lee Kit happens to express the quiet, unhurried, and eternal parts of life completely absent from popular culture in Hong Kong. With painting as his background, he felt turned off by the academic and ritualistic aspects of the medium — even the stretching of the canvas and the setting up of the easel — so he chose to draw on sheets, pillow cases, and tablecloths. In 2003, when SARS was ravaging Hong Kong, Lee and his friends decided to break out of the confines of their homes and go for a picnic. On his way out the door, Lee grabbed a sheet on which he had drawn; later, during the picnic, his friends sat on his work while bread crumbs and tomato sauce fell on it This bed sheet became the first iteration of Lee’s work in real life, turning it into a memento that carried a story.

The seemingly prosaic narrative in Lee’s work has the power to move its audience because  objects are taken from everyday life and returned to life while simultaneously sublimated into art. In a society as materialistic as Hong Kong’s, with a population lives life out on sofas staring at TV, perhaps the only space left for reflexive art lies in these half-visible moments between the ordinary and the banal — in the ripples of the curtain’s shadow on the wall, in the coffee and jam-stained remnants of breakfast on the tablecloth, on the plain packaging of the skin cream carried around everywhere, or in the light green bottle of bleach waiting next to the white wall to be used or forgotten.

The most famous poem by the American poet William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” alludes to the inherent lushness of everyday life:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Williams’ minimalistic use of language is comparable to the mood of ancient Chinese poems and shows the poetry of life through imagery. Similarly, the colors and settings in Lee’s work might seem to be placed at random, but in truth, he has hidden his intent everywhere and in this way his work also sings the poetry of daily life. The same phenomenon can be seen in the works of Lee’s hero, Vermeer. Often, in the 17th-century Dutch master’s works, nothing appears to be happening on the still surface of the canvas, but the images are imbued with an elusive atmosphere and intense drama — at times tense, at times lyrical, but always mesmerizing.

Lee Kit’s exhibition — his first solo exhibition in Mainland China — is titled “Every Breath You Take,” which is also the title and first line of “The Police” song. Oh, we are all watching you.

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

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