Lee Kit’s How to set up a room for Johnny is staggeringly beautiful. Entering a space that constitutes one third of the cavernous factory-building gallery the visitor encounters first simply the title of the exhibition, pasted on the wall and illuminated by a bare fluorescent tube, the actual content of the project visible only in the far corner of the space, well lit but positioned on the wrong side of a dark stretch of empty floor. Walking across the distance we find that the artist has constructed a small apartment for himself--or for Johnny--starting by laying down flooring over this small corner of the gallery to form a surface that measures perhaps 400 square feet amidst a space of at least 2000. Lee Kit has then filled in the apartment with readymade furniture, including a kitchenette, a bed, a table, some chairs, and a chest of drawers, all punctuated with paintings on cloth and cardboard of his own production. Generally matching a similar shade of sky blue, these painted objects act as shower curtain, folded sheets on an ironing board, bedsheets, tablecloths, dishrags, and even explicit paintings hung on the walls, bringing to fruition all of the possible uses the artist attempts to embed within the objects of his practice. During the opening he sits uneasily at the table or walks around the perimeter, sharing a bottle of wine with friends and well-wishers. By the end of the evening the cloth is stained, all of the stacked bowls are filled with wine, and everything begins to wilt just so slightly, giving it that patina of art that’s been lived in.
Lee Kit lives within that tension between an image presented for admiration and an environment intended to be entered. Here the first glance across the bland canyon of the gallery space is coy and breathtaking, unfailingly drawing the viewer into the soft embrace of the cloth that so easily, so quickly surrounds anyone who approaches it. The installation, calculated to occupy only a small corner of the exhibition space, ultimately expands to encompass it all, practically sucking the life out of the two other exhibitions housed in neighboring spaces and pulling one and all into its orbit. It is a seductive gesture, a promised land for the weary.
(Lee Kit, Johnny's Bathroom (Details), 2011, Plywood, fabric, vinyl and mixed media, Dimensions Variable; Courtesy of the artist and Osage Gallery.)
First presented as a solo project at Art Statements in Basel during the summer of 2011, the installation may have something to say about the state of property in Hong Kong--indeed, its gimmick is that it is sold by the square foot as a single entity, and Lee Kit was its salesperson the first time around. Now, however, he is its inhabitant, and this almost disconcertingly politicized reading of the apartment seems a distant memory. This is, after all, essentially the same kind of space as the artist’s studio, and therefore a component of his campaign to insist that, in an avowedly anti-materialist way, objects do make life better. As he wrote in a recent blog post, echoing lyrics of songs I don’t happen to know: “In an ideal home, nothing you do can go wrong. We try and try, even if it lasts an hour.”
(Image at top: Lee Kit, How to set up an apartment for Johnny (Detail), 2011; Courtesy of the artist and Osage Gallery.)