Carol Lee first showed her interest in the nature of time in Under-layers (2005), a pictorial journal with ink on paper. In this work, she explored her own status by a continuous recording of time. Since 2007, Lee has kept trying to employ time as both the material and means of her art making. Harnessing the changes in light and its reaction with paper, she has made time and space two-dimensional and visible, presenting the relationship between time and history/memories in pictorial form. Lee’s works cross the boundaries of various traditional media—photography, printmaking, painting—and are full of non-material and non-specific uncertainties. The way she develops her works has gradually become her own language for art expression, which she names “time writing” or “time drawing”. Different from photographs and paintings, Lee’s works do not see time as a captured moment. In her works, time flows, settles, accumulates, stays, stacks up, interacts and evolves. Time is a new language of art creation. It is the works themselves.
In some series, Lee worked with found objects, photographs and places around her, examining the relationship of light and images therein. The physical objects eventually became an empty area of space in the works. They disappeared but time left traces of their existence on the paper. The void acts like a crack in time, allowing us to peep into the history and memories left by the years. In the series Beyond。Luminosity, Lee made a record of the status of time, man and space. Still。Life was developed around the theme of house/home and feminine roles, narrating intimate feelings as well as memories and events of life which the artist treasures. Others, Elsewhere belongs to the series titled Si Nian. The works brought together some old objects and sketches of the artist’s son, telling the thought for another person and a mother’s love. In these series, the days and hours Lee walked through became her works.
Another series that Lee kept working on in the past few years is a collection of hand-made postcards. She selected objects she came across in daily life and travels, turned them into stencils and made postcards with the technique of “time drawing”. The postcards were then mailed to her family, friends, and even persons she did not know, embarking on journeys of their own. Every postcard carries on one side the image left by light and time as it interacted with the object or stencil, and a handwritten message by Lee on the other. Each of them preserves what the artist saw and thought of at a particular time point of her life. It also contains the time it went through in its own making, mailing, delivery and receiving. In an era craving for speed and dominated by digital media, the artist directs us to a re-examination of writing, communication and time.
From both the perspective of science and philosophy, what we describe as the present is actually in the past and a part of history. It is because only when time passes can we perceive everything around us. In Carol Lee’s works, time is no longer linear. We travel through days and years in her works, going back to the past to tie it with the present. By so doing, we can again read in detail those stories we considered lost in the threads of time. Time, in the past and at present, starts a new form of life in Lee’s works. The lightness of its being translates into thousands of words.
The new series of Lee is titled Remembering the days, forgetting the time. As in her works of the past few years, time is both the medium and the content of the new body of works. Again, time connects with history and memories, but different from before, the works are not related to the personal memories of the artist. The starting point of the new collection is the “others” in time and space, including artefacts that carry the symbols and history of different times/eras. Life walks with time, and because of time, everyone and every object have their own stories. Some stories are widely told, while many more are buried in the memories of their owners, spending long years silently and finally lost in the history of man. Time, which drives this process, is itself invisible. Lee allowed time to pass through some objects from the past, such as those relating to the origin of humankind or from sinking ships. The memories attached to them were read and put down in the works. The abstract and invisible was once again transformed into images we can all see.
“It’s not that what is past casts light on what is present, or what is present its light on the past; rather,
image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation.”
- Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project