Jae Hoon Lee: Tilting the Horizon

9 Jun - 11 Jul 2020

Jae Hoon Lee’s Tilting the Horizon features new works made during his 2019-20 Tylee Cottage Residency awarded by the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui. It was here Lee utilised new drone photography techniques to document our landscape, techniques often implicated in surveillance, surveying, war, cinema and real estate.


A South Korean immigrant who lived in America before moving to Aotearoa, Lee’s images offer the unique perspective of an artist who views the landscapes and cultures of New Zealand from a position simultaneously inside and outside. His work embellishes and complicates images of the environments he encounters on his frequent travels. The artist notes: “I become a performer, in multidirectional movements, navigating different cultures by capturing environmental textures from many different living territories.”


He goes on: “Through representing my real experience simultaneously through a virtual timeline, my sense of identity exists in many different geographical locations at the same time. It operates as a kind of membrane between spaces – a pliable layer that connects rather than separates.” His hybrid images reflect an identity in flux and the shifting vantage points of an artist always on the move.


Lee’s mastery of digital assemblage produces seamless, compelling composites from a multitude of source photographs, and although the work typically hovers at the threshold of believability, artworks such as Sunset-Whanganui (2020) celebrate their apparent artifice. Oscillating between the real and imagined, Lee’s most recent work confidently tilts towards the latter. The steeple of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church grounds the image at an important historical landmark, while echoing a sense of the numinous the artist amplifies in the skies overhead.


In this exhibition, Lee’s works derived from images captured within the Whanganui region are complemented with two new works constructed entirely from high resolution black and white stock photographs. Traversing media-scapes alongside physical terrain, here the artist weaves digital tapestries which appear as concoctions of the imagination.


The landscapes of Aotearoa have long been idealised – indeed the nation built a tourism industry around it. Lee’s knowing flirtation with overt sentimentality and romanticism in works such as Waterfall-Cave (2020) suggest a possible apotheosis of this imaging tradition, alongside its potential collapse. A stock photograph uncannily resembling Mount Taranaki’s shining peak sits at its centre – the ‘real thing’ as it were – yet it is mirrored in a form reminiscent of a uvula inside a cave mouth. In this series, Lee’s strategy of pushing past believability foregrounds the politics of representation at stake. It appears to ask: what do we want from images? If we are more comfortable with fictions over facts, what if these fictions are no longer something we can believe in?


Tilting the Horizon may evoke a sense of the liminal for some, even a feeling of vertigo. Lee’s treatment of photographic space and time reflect a project which at once creates new topologies and ways of seeing. His latest work suggests he is tilting more than the lens, but also the horizon of contemporary imaging and his own imagination.


Emil McAvoy

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