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Good Books: Lee Lee on (Un)Natural Resources

Lee Lee is a visual artist working in a variety of mediums, from paint to collage to elaborate installations. Her art examines collisions between traditional practice and globalization, and explores environmental impacts of our post-industrial chemical age.

Her recent work looks at the friction between US food policy & Haitian experience, and will be featured in 2014 by the Society of Caribbean Studies in Glasgow, Scotland and by the Center for Global Justice in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It is part of a larger exploration on sustainable food systems that has been featured by the International Symposium of Electronic Arts, and will be included as part of the Slow Food US delegation to Terra Madre in Turin, Italy. Her work on plastic has been featured by the UN Programme on the Environment, the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences, the Museum of Natural History at the University of Colorado, the La Napoule Art Foundation in France, and will be included in the Ruhr Biennial in Germany.

"I feel very strongly about the importance of collaboration between the arts and sciences," she explains. "Where science offers authenticity, art is rooted in our emotional core and has the capacity to touch people in a way that encourages action."

Lee Lee suggests three good books on, about, and related to (Un)Natural Resources:

Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti

by Leah Gordon

I had the honor of participating in the 3rd Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2013. Leah Gordon was one of three curators (the others being David Frohnapfel and the Haitian artist, Celeur Jean-Herard, whose exquisite sculpture stands on my studio table watching over me as I work). I acquired Gordon’s book of photographs before making the journey to Haiti and was deeply moved by the portraits she had taken during the Carnival celebrations in the southern coast town of Jacmel. Just after the book was published, the big earthquake nearly leveled the place. Haitians have long been subjected to the impositions of outsider worldviews while suffering severe injustices due to the dominating forces of economic globalization. Particularly after the earthquake, there were hoards of journalists and NGO sponsored photographers who took quick pictures of Haiti in her devastated state. These pictures raised a ton of money which never really made it back to the source, frustrating those who were portrayed. Gordon took a different approach. It was a slow process to set up her large format camera, which offered the opportunity for rich dialogue through the process. Her work celebrates the resourceful and creative nature of those she portrayed, and she wove in direct accounts of oral histories that offer meaning to what is being expressed. Haitians have an acute understanding of their history and maintain their stories through creative means; music, visual art and in this case, costume and performance. The work is powerful, without relying on the sensationalized circumstances that we saw in images after the earthquake. Gordon has a genuine interest in Haiti, and in keeping with her approach to the portraits presented in Kanaval, I was impressed by the attention she gave to the Biennale. She was constantly exploring what worked as well as the misunderstandings that took place as 35 foreign artists worked with the community of artists that made up the Atis Rezistans. She cares.

The Floating World of Ukiyo-e:
Shadows Dreams and Substance

by Sandy Kita

After booking a ticket to visit cousins in Tokyo this summer, I pulled out this book to lose myself regularly in one of the most exquisite movements in art history. This traditional form of Japanese woodblock printing captures the delicacy of cherry blossoms falling lightly into water, the graceful lines of a fine kimono and the intricate patterning in samurai robes. Throughout, the attention to detail and sensitivity to the natural world is awe inspiring, and the skill necessary to create these works by carving them out of hardwood does not cease to amaze. Balance is essential in my practice. Since immersing myself in the ecological problems presented by single-use plastic, I have found myself synthetically saturated. After researching the issue thoroughly, I found that Edward Hume’s Garbology and Plastic, A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel offer the best insights into our consumption and devaluation of the material. (For an apocalyptic view on the chemical age we live in, stirring evidence of what is at stake is presented in Our Stolen Future by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski & John Peter Meyers). It can be overwhelming and utterly disheartening to be so consumed by the environmental catastrophes we are facing. I’m moved to work around it because I think it is vital to question our actions that lead us down this mortal coil. To keep a steady course, I have found ways to ground my emotional sensitivities in the natural world so that my muse is replenished by the beauty therein. When I don’t have the time to escape to the mountains, getting lost in the floating worlds of Ukiyo-e offers a quiet and reflective visual space to inspire.
Seeds: Time Capsules of Life
by Rob Kesseler, Wolfgang Stuppy and Alexandra Papadakis

One of the most visually rich accounts of seeds, this book is a delight to open to a random page and ponder the potential for growth. Incorporating electron microscopy, the images are an elegant presentation of the design of seeds, offering an intuitive understanding of their function that complements the scientific elements in the text. I especially love the exploration of how plants gain the ability for movement and migration through the dispersal of their seeds. In this age of the Anthropocene, I feel very strongly about the importance of collaboration between the arts and sciences. Where science offers authenticity, art is rooted in our emotional core and has the capacity to touch people in a way that encourages action. Since humans have had a monumental impact on the world’s environment, we should take ownership of this era that has been named after ourselves to become planetary stewards. Our survival depends on it. This book inspired a series of art exhibits in Taos, New Mexico, where I maintain a studio. The multisensory SEED exhibitions invite visitors to “look through the lens of the seed to explore connections between art and science and their personal relationship to the natural world.” Built by Siena Sanderson, Mandy Stapleford, Katie Woodall and Claire Coté, these arts luminaries have developed substantial and rich educational programming to complement the art on display. Part of my life in Taos is dedicated to the development of our permaculture garden as a platform for creative engagement. Happily, we were able to provide seeds for the SEED Sensorium during the last exhibition there. True to the nature of seeds, they are allowing the concept to be dispersed and grow there it finds fertile grounds. I have the honor of building the next phase to the project in Denver in 2015, and am looking forward to maintaining their vision with a new set of creatives.

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