A collection of Kung Fu figurine soaps, five key chains cast from life-sized feet: peering into the clinical glass case fabricated by Susan Lee-Chun for It’s a pleasure (not) to meet you, the viewer mediates between artifact and kitsch, or between systems of knowledge production. The display’s transparent barriers substantiate the glass ceiling between subjectivity and material culture. Its concretization of metaphor shatters the viewer’s expectation of fixed objects, instead setting them in flux between commodity forms and identity representations. When the eye grazes the muscles of a knockoff Bruce Lee, the artist lays bare the apparatus through which Asian masculinity is constructed by the proliferation of signs in popular culture. When the gaze covets a gold-painted, four-finger ring mounted by the word GIBBERISH, the artist exposes the powerful agency of language in the persistence of racial imaginaries.
The defamiliarized scales, materialities, and use values of Lee-Chun’s sculptures fictionalize their role in an ethnographic display. The artist complicates the social construction of identity and representation when she casts aluminum and polymer clay earrings, paints them gold, and spans their hyperbolic 24″ inch diameters with phrases including “La Chinita” and “No se habla Chinois o Japonais.” At such moments, the specificity of the artist’s own ethnic, geographic, linguistic, and social narratives underscore the personal subjectivity at stake in the materiality of culturally produced objects. It’s a pleasure (not) to meet you becomes a refusal to be what one wears, utilizes, or collects. The exhibitions parenthetical negation emphasizes, after Stuart Hall, the co-constitutional condition of culture and consumption.
- Susan Lee-Chun, Earring Only Color.