Auckland-based artist Yona Lee creates elaborate site-responsive interventions that form dynamic spatial relationships. Formerly a professional cellist, Lee’s current artistic enquiry melds the formalism of classical music with an exploration of space and industrial materials, reminiscent of 1960s minimalism. Her most recent work has explored locations through complex linear forms constructed in galvanised steel.
For the Te Tuhi Project Wall, Lee has meticulously measured, cut and welded over 100 metres of 8mm stainless steel rod to engage with the spatial logic and transitory use of the site. As visitors enter the building they are flanked and directed by diagonal steel lines. This procession of line leads on to echo the existing architectural forms as the rod precisely aligns with structural beams, window frames, tiles and brick grouting.
At the structure’s centre is an entwined cube-like structure that has been carefully engineered to imprison a cello. At unannounced periods throughout the exhibition, Lee will install the cello for temporary durations. This temporary addition introduces conceptual tension as emphasis shifts between the work’s minimalism and the emotive cultural associations of the cello. The inclusion of music also introduces further formalist relevance between music notation and sculptural form. Brackets could be read as notes or stops and diagonal lines resembling rhythm and pitch.
Through this work, Lee enters into a conversation with the legacy of minimalist artists such as Sol LeWitt and Fred Sandback. Her reference to classical music, however, derails this association to problematically introduce sentiment within the piety of formalism.
‘This project was foundational within my practice. In this work, the sculptural language has been filtered through that of the cello, bringing my art practice and background in classical music together. I felt like I had found the language that was truly my own.
I set out to be faithful to the architectural elements of the site – such as the grid of tiles and window frames – and to the context of the Project Wall as a transitional space. This approach was consolidated in subsequent projects, back at Te Tuhi in 2017, and then in Sydney (2018-2019), Wellington (2018-2019), and Lyon (2019-2020), where I worked in relation to pre-existing gantry cranes, pillars and complicated ceiling structures.
It’s interesting to see the small ‘tangle’ composition around the cello in this work, and to reflect on how this simple gesture has evolved over time in my more recent work. I replaced the cello with everyday objects, such as lamps, mop heads, bunk beds and privacy curtains. I have since changed the thinner stainless steel rods to thicker pipes. Despite these transitions, one can still trace the consistent thread that weaves through these separate but intricately connected projects, beginning with Composition in 2012.’
– Yona Lee, 2020