A continued line of questioning in Lee’s work is the complex relationship between that which is “real” and that which is “artificial” in contemporary culture and art. How does the meaning of an object change when it is “forged”—for example, a cubic zirconia versus a real diamond, or homemade ramen noodles versus the instant variety? Lee investigates the “fake” and its multilayered relationship with meaning and value in both his images and his assemblages.
“Fugazi” is a slang term, primarily used in Mafia films, that describes a substandard or counterfeit item—like a fake diamond. Fugazi (2016) is a series of digital scans of cubic zirconia, a synthesized gemstone closely resembling a diamond in clarity and durability but worth a fraction of the price. Lee scanned these diamond substitutes at an extremely high resolution, a process that visually abstracts the internal 3D structure of the stone. What is revealed is an “artifacted” digital landscape rife with dazzling colours and patterns. Fugazi references the legacy of the photoconceptualist movement of the 1980s while urging viewers to question the value associated with luxury items.
Production stills from Fugazi (2016). Courtesy of the artist.
by Evan Lee
Lee, Evan. “Essay: Fugazi Economy by Evan Lee — SFU Galleries”, SFU.
Fugazi has been a year-long, site-specific adaptation of pre-existing work of the same name. In 2017, I produced a series of printed works on paper with images of cubic zirconia, also known as fake diamonds, made using a scanner. In the initial Fugazi prints, the images of the crystalline forms are grossly enlarged for effect, to the point of abstraction. In the Teck Gallery installation, this effect is further exaggerated: images of a 25mm object is made to fill two 3.6 x 6.0m walls. This economical use of an image highlights a concern that I have been working through since the early days of my practice: how to use very little to create an image that is rich.
On first glance, Fugazi prompts consideration of the liminal and unexpected possibilities of lens-based representation. It is a visual work comprised of multicolour abstract forms. However, I am only minimally interested in captured light as an aesthetic phenomenon. In the process of conceiving and producing Fugazi, I became cognizant of a less obvious but equally important theme that I had not really acknowledged in the past: many of the ideas for my work are the result of my obsession with economy. In other, less flattering, words, perhaps I am cheap.
Evan Lee, Fugazi, archival pigment print, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.
ICHIBAN (2016, 2021)
Formed with paint and instant ramen noodles, Ichiban (2016, 2021) is a series of experimental sculptures that considers the artificial qualities of instant food and the systems that gave rise to this culinary phenomenon. Developed under capitalist structures of overworking, technological acceleration and mass production, instant food became popular in the mid-twentieth century to replace time-consuming home-cooked meals. While Ichiban references the inherent fakery of these edible consumer goods, the work also reflects on time and ephemerality: the fragile forms in Ichiban (2016) seem groundless and appear to float in space, while the newer iteration (2021) was tightly bound to the frame before time hardened the noodles into place.
Evan Lee, Ichiban, instant noodles, acrylic medium, acrylic paint, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery
Production — Process
Q: Your experimental sculpture and painting work Ichiban (2016, 2021) is made using acrylic medium, acrylic paint and instant ramen noodles—a mass-produced imitation of the slow, home-cooked version. The process of moistening and stretching these cheap ramen noodles across a canvas frame or manipulating them into sculptures is a departure from using conventional (and often expensive) art materials. When these forms are placed in a gallery context, they become desirable art objects. How does this shift in context and display alter the perceived value of the objects?
Evan Lee, Ichiban, instant noodles, acrylic medium, acrylic paint, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.