Section: Arts

Kenyon professor connects with transformation and tradition through her art

Kenyon professor connects with transformation and tradition through her art

The faint scent of fermented vegetables will be filling the air of the center room of the Gund Gallery from April 23rd until May 27th. The smell is part of THE BEND, an introductory show recently premiered by Assistant Professor of Art Sandra Lee. “I was bringing in fermented vegetables, Korean spices, Korean fermented vegetables, I was using that as a metaphor for transformation,” Lee said. “I have these common materials, like garlic, but once garlic goes into this environment, it can be fermented and it totally transforms, it becomes another version of itself.”

THE BEND, which incorporates many artistic practices like sculpture, video and a new spin on traditional gardening, functions as a recent overview of Lee’s work and focuses on the theme of change. Before coming to Gambier, she worked abroad in Beijing and Seoul, Korea. The pieces on display were designed in these three locations.

The newest piece, at the center of the room, is Ferment, Foment, a study of traditional rock gardening, and the Korean practice of fermenting vegetables. The piece is a collection of different materials, some more unconventional than others, organized in the style of a garden. These materials include bamboo, branches, construction mesh, concrete, yarn, dried seaweed and fermented Korean vegetables and spices. Jars with various foods in the process of fermentation are placed in sealed jars around other structures like blocks and miniature trees, recalling both the organization and controlled life of a garden.

The fermenting garlic is just one of many transformations of the mundane on display. Lee has featured everything from footage of a rapidly changing neighborhood in Beijing, Jimenqiao Village, 2017; a sizeable tower of vertical interlocking shirt cuffs, Loop (day out), 2007/16; and treated brick meant to suggest a reflective pond, Sidewalk Soswaewo, 2016.

“I used brick, sidewalk brick, very, very common Ohio sidewalk brick,” she said of Sidewalk Soswaewo, “but through the treatment of glazes, polishing and sanding, it starts to become like a portable pond, reflective service, for contemplating, like a pond in a garden.”

“It’s kind of a ‘construction garden’,” Lee said. She went on to explain that this piece was inspired by the heavy amount of construction disrupting daily life in the area. “I was really interested in how there are always traces of people, building gardens in these places in between … They get destroyed, new ones get put up again, so this constant push and pull, force-space.”

Lee said she wanted the name of the show to reflect the shifting environments and the transformation of their inhabitants and objects. “That’s sort of the idea of THE BEND,  something’s kind of coming, something percolating underneath,” she said.

Lee says she also thinks the timing is apt for a show focusing on what she describes as “portable culture” in light of the sociopolitical and socioeconomic realities of today. “I really do think urgent times are always happening, but it definitely felt very appropriate,” Lee said.

The pieces reflect the struggle to organize space aesthetically under adverse conditions, but this general practice of aesthetic organization is something we all have in common. “They’re these daily creative acts,” Lee said, “constantly sort of playing themselves out day-to-day. I’m inspired by the moving of materials, the placement of objects, so people can have a place for themselves.”

“That portable nature of it is I think something a lot of people can relate to,” Lee added, noting  that the installment itself is a collection of pieces from former periods brought together into a temporary space. “You’re relocating, you’re setting up again and again, and you’re doing it with older parts of yourself, and where you project yourself … It’s that in-between space I’m interested in.”

THE BEND will run in the Gund Gallery until Sunday, May 27.


Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at