As the title suggests, subtle contradictions frame Jin Lee's current show, The Near and the Far at the Devening Project Space. There is always the stark contrast of interior vs. exterior at Devening: the dilapidation of West Carroll that secrets the crisp clean whiteness of the gallery. Lee's photographs soften, yet continue this contrast, playing stark against serene, universality against specificity, and yes, near against the distant far.
The works are immaculately installed in the solely dedicated exhibition space at Devening, hung in a series of pairings that organize a small room which might otherwise be overwhelmed. There is a calming effect, the misty views of Lake Michigan make images of broken glass and thriving weeds seem essentially existential. The palette that seems initially gray slowly yields multiple variations on the theme, and becomes starkly punctuated by the singular blue sky, or the green of a Patrón label.
There are two punctuations to the horizon of pairings: two works that interrupt the flow, that tilt the picture plane up hard, that stop the endless comparisons that can be made between two works of a similar scene. It's a risk that works: a sip of water in the form of a lanky weed against a stark white wall that refreshes the eye and reinforces the structure provided by the pairs of lakes and grasses. The quickly tilting perspective, which might, with other subject matter, give cause for viewer alarm, creates a dynamism that is otherwise missing from the still and silent works. The near/far, up/down shifts remind the viewer of the framing of the shot: the artifice of the window through which they share Lee's world.
These are the photographs of an artist interested in surface, of water, of the photograph, of her environs. Lee's patience, evident in the variety that she captures from the same location, evokes the Big Sea series of Vija Celmins: a visual manifestation of a painstaking and meditative practice. This attention to detail is also evident in the surface grain occasionally visible: as a photographer loyal to a film medium, Lee deploys the grain against the waves, technological vs. natural texture. Herein lies the mortal vs. eternal.
It's informative to look back to Lee's 2003 show at the Museum of Contemporary Photography: since then, the figure (or parts thereof) has disappeared from her work. Now referenced by the medium and recorded detritus, the human presence in recent work seems less constructive, functioning alternately as interloper and silent observer. This might be the confusing contradiction in the show: where is Lee attempting to position humanity? As the meditative student, learning from the subtleties of the changing lake, or as a destructive force that defiles its surroundings. The shift between these roles happens quietly between the works, sometimes making even the nearness of the environment outside Devening Projects seem a world far removed.