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Marc Lee

[…] More than in voyeurism, the extraordinary force of Lee’s work lies in his ability to give a sensible face to the digital globalization. Like it or not, we come face-to-face with the globalized world and its uninformative information paroxysm.

[…] During the dialogue at cinema Xenix, Marc Lee himself hinted at the question of to what extent can net art can be considered more lively than photography or film – an interesting question that challenges our prejudices that net art delivers a highly artificial experience.

Reto Bühler and the Xenix cinema have proposed a very interesting meeting with Basel-based net artist Marc Lee. Through Lee’s works, even someone who ignores the net art scene can easily discover this world and go deeper into it, as they are both complex and easy to understand at the same time. In a dialogue with Doris Gassert, research curator at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Lee focused on four recent projects consisting of installations and net artworks by him. One can access them directly through Lee’s personal website and, instead of describing the works here, it would be more interesting to stress the recurring aspects and well-researched motives that appear in the work of this pioneering artist.

Marc Lee sees himself as a documentarist: the software he designs often do nothing more than collect and display data and information already available on the internet. The images and videos we access through his artwork highlight very popular internet domains as the world of information or the worlds of social media. Yet, the extensive gathering of “posts” from these sources impresses us, as Lee systematically uses posts that fit one criterion: they must be recent or even “live” posts. Retrospectively, we discover how goal-oriented our daily use of internet information and communication is; without the selection guided by our own personal goals and motivating factors, we are submerged in a constant flow of meaningful-but-anonymous data.

Doris Gassert often speaks of the entertainment aspect of his artworks, and in fact Lee plays with voyeurism to titillate our curiosity and insinuate boredom at the same time. More than in voyeurism, the extraordinary force of Lee’s work lies in his ability to give a sensible face to the digital globalization. Like it or not, we come face-to-face with the globalized world and its uninformative information paroxysm.

The dramaturgy of Marc Lee’s global spectacle respects a precise rule that almost seems to be an obsession of his: the data is almost always live data. His works express the primordial astonishment with the “magic” of receiving live contents from distant sources, which is essentially also the excitement for an expanded present. During the dialogue at cinema Xenix, Marc Lee himself hinted at the question of to what extent can net art can be considered more lively than photography or film – an interesting question that challenges our prejudices that net art delivers a highly artificial experience.

In order to be faithful to the living aspect of his works, Lee reduces his interventions as much as possible in the selection of the material he shows. The content must remain uncontrollable and changing according to the ephemeral happenings coming from the internet. This propensity towards neutrality can result in the delivering of a massive amount of data that is interesting exclusively as a sheer documentation of our reality. But, does a reality independent of our own interests and selection really exist? And, if there is one, is it something more than just a monstrous background noise?

Actually, Marc Lee’s neutral attitude is only ostensible; there is certinaly much more to his dramaturgy than just following the one rule of gathering live contents from the internet. His installations and video solutions organise the neutrally gathered material through specific choices. Here one can recognize, for example, the choice to emphasise the excess of information or the access to private domains. In both cases we have the impression that Lee wants to give us the dizziness of the absence of meaning or of the absurdity of global communication. Through a certain appreciation for the caricature, we start to discover the social critic behind the pure documentarist. It would be interesting to ask the newer generation of digital natives (and the even newer generation of social media natives) how they would perceive Marc Lee’s works. It wouldn’t surprise me if they would view the critical stance in Lee's works as evidence that he does not understand their world…

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore

First published: May 23, 2017

Marc Lee | Talk | Doris Gassert | Kino Xenix Zürich

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