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Light Work Spring 2020 Exhibiting Artist Explores Nature as Site of Refuge and Trauma
Light Work is presenting “Trap and Lean-to,” a solo exhibition of photographs by Oakland-based artist Dionne Lee, through March 7. A multimedia artist, Lee employs video, collage, photography and sculpture to explore American landscape and her place within its complex history.
As an African American woman, she sees the natural world as a place of refuge and tranquility as well as one of racial violence, danger, and vulnerability. More broadly, her work acknowledges the terror of climate change, mass migration and humanity’s ongoing drama of survival. Duality is a frequent feature of Lee’s work, as she notes that “two things can be true at once.”
A reception and gallery talk with Lee will take place on Thursday, Jan. 30, at 6 p.m. in the Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery. Signed copies of the exhibition catalog, Contact Sheet 205, will be available to collectors after the talk. The reception is free and open to the public; refreshments will be available.
Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 9 p.m. Light Work closes on all Syracuse University and federal holidays. Light Work is located in the Robert B. Menschel Media Center at 316 Waverly Ave., Syracuse.
Lee’s process is both organic and intuitive. She often manipulates found imagery in the darkroom. The exhibition contains many fragments of photographs from her many wilderness survival manuals and vintage color magazines that contain majestic views of “the great outdoors.” The survival manuals offer detailed, step-by-step directions on building a lean-to or foraging for food and water. Lee has become adept at these skills herself, thus reclaiming her connection to the earth and salvaging nearly lost ancestral skills and knowledge. As the earth continues to shift beneath our feet, Lee asks what determines survival: not just who has what, but who knows how.
Lee’s darkroom practice conveys the same sense of intervention and disruption. With a forceful irreverence for the sacred silver gelatin printing process, she deconstructs photography itself. Lee draws with graphite directly on prints before and after she exposes them. She pulls negatives across the scanning bed to create painterly abstractions. She tears, crumples, solarizes and double-exposes fragments of information, challenging photography’s purpose and authorship as well as any idealized and colonialist view of the earth.
Light Work’s Urban Video Project (UVP) is presenting a special short exhibition of Lee’s work to accompany her solo exhibition. Lee’s piece “A Use for Rope or String” grapples with ideas of power, agency, the fragility and resilience of land, and racial histories. In her work, she considers the complications and dual legacies that exist within representations of American landscape. This work is displayed at UVP’s outdoor architectural projection site on the Everson Museum of Art’s north facade from Jan. 29–Feb. 1.
About the artist
Dionne Lee, born in New York City and based in Oakland, received an M.F.A. from California College of the Arts in 2017. In New York City, she has exhibited her work at Aperture Foundation and the school of the International Center of Photography. Her exhibitions throughout the Bay Area include Aggregate Space, Interface, LAND AND SEA and the San Francisco Arts Commission. In 2016, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center awarded her a graduate fellowship and she received the Barclay Simpson Award. She was Art Forum Magazine’s Critics’ Pick in 2017 and 2019. In 2019, she was Artist in Residence at Woodstock’s Center for Photography and a finalist for the SFMoMa SECA and San Francisco Artadia awards. She currently teaches photography at the San Francisco Art Institute and Stanford University.
Contact Sheet 205 includes an essay by Mary Lee Hodgens. The catalog is available for purchase online in the Light Work shop at www.lightwork.org/.