Artists consumer reports

Consumer Reports: Seung-Min Lee

Seung-Min Lee ARTIST

Seung-Min Lee is a New York-based artist who has staged work at venues including the Kitchen, Performance Space New York, and Interstate Projects, Brooklyn. Lee will be performing at Human Resources during this year’s L.A. Art Book Fair and will be participating in a symposium at the CUNY Graduate Center for the March 28 launch of Issue 11 of Shift: Graduate Journal of Visual and Material Culture, “BLOOD AND EARTH AND SOIL.”

In one week, Lee consumes plenty of media—everything from public radio to studio visits to Dennis Rodman’s Twitter account. There are reflections on Howard Stern’s role in the artist’s personal 9/11 narrative, the New Brunswick, New Jersey sandwich scene, and the Satanic Temple. Plus, a trip to the West Village art mainstay tapas bar Spain and the legendary Brooklyn punk warehouse 538 Johnson. All that plus much more, below! —John Chiaverina

Wednesday

7:00 a.m.

Wake up to NPR—I’m an aspirational hypebeast for white baby boomer culture, like comfort shoes, Meryl Streep cinematic-vehicles, and excessive word play.

Exhibit A: An old man with a Rasputin beard and a hairless dog won my heart by playing the word “BONERS” over and over again in the iPhone Scrabble app—Words With Friends—until I had to go on a date with him. Exhibit B: A millennial once seduced me merely with his uncanny ability to weave puns about being Jewish into the comments of every Instagram post I made. If you supply a Pynchonian-texture to my dumb social media universe, you’re gonna pique my peaks.

Hey Word Nerds,
CHALLAH AT YA GIRL!

Being roused from a hellish hangover by the dulcet sounds of public-radio voices soothes my soul like I’m a little Korean baby given a warm sudsy bath by nice, liberal, Asian-baby-adopting white parent types. In my mind’s eye, they live in Park Slope and let their twin Airedale terriers follow them out the door to pick up their copy of the Times from the stoop. This vision is copacetic and heals the cleave between my aching body and my hungry mind enough for me to get out of bed. I realize as I look out my window at two squirrels frantically chasing one another down the cable wire crisscrossing the garden behind my studio apartment that the dream is real—I live in a Park Slope brownstone and have 3 pairs of ethnic slippers I can slide into while I slide you into my DMs.

When I was a teen, my go-to radio alarm used to be The Howard Stern Show on KROQ, which is how I learned about 9/11 happening. Howard stops making jokes about stripper tits to announce that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. This makes me turn on the TV in my dorm room just in time to see a plane hit the second tower. I wake up everyone in my dorm to make them watch the news coverage with me while we stare in shock. It’s registration day for classes my sophomore year, and some a-holes actually thought “the terrorists” would target the Brutalist, concrete tower our dorm was housed in.

Since then I’ve been committed to waking up to radio—the immediacy and shared experience of a national broadcast feels more authentic than the miasmic, attention-grabby, scroll of Twitter.

Still, I’m amazed that I can trigger myself in .01 seconds by looking up “Howard Stern 9/11” and relive that morning.

Who is the population of weirdos that spend their free time capturing and archiving bullshit pop ephemera for YouTube? I assume these “beings” are LinkedIn profiles that achieved the sentience of the Singularity without attracting any attention by having jobs with titles like “Accounts Payables Professional.” Or maybe they’re just people with health insurance and Roth IRAs who live in Cleveland—does anyone else call them “civilians?”

Spencer Sweeney serves me a Korean stew he’s been perfecting. It’s annoying because I’m Korean and he’s a white boy from Philly, but he’s succeeded in making something that tastes authentically like a meal you have on deep bender in Seoul at 4 a.m. outside the club in a tent with a gas stove cooked by a spinster in fingerless moving gloves while you suck down Soju and Hite beers next to wasted businessmen. He’s bent on getting me to watch a movie on YouTube called Gay N****s From Outer Space. It’s an Afro-futurist fantasy black-and-white film, where a spaceship full of gay black men from the Planet Anus go around discovering new worlds. It’s bizarrely anachronistic and has a weird Euro edge to it, like watching Milli Vanilli trying to cover Funkadelic, later I IMDB it and see that it’s made by a white Danish guy, who looks like he should own a Dark Web biz selling Adderall and underage pr0n for Bitcoins. Honestly, please never watch Gay N****s From Outer Space, but do read SOULS GROWN DEEP: African American Vernacular Art, a book on Spencer’s coffee table of so-called outsider artists that I flip through when I tire (pretty quickly) of Danish faux-Afro-futurism. I am obsessed with Georgia Speller.

 

 

Thursday

4:00 a.m.

I wake in middle of the night and read the NY Times for four hours on my iPhone. I haven’t done this in a while because I treat reading the news like watching porn on YouPorn, it’s an unhealthy compulsion. Nine months ago, I “consciously uncoupled” myself from all news that has “Trump” in the headline, since it makes me abjectly horny for the truth and I don’t want to give the Troll of The USA page views. But I have no choice right now, because one day, when Eric Kim from Human Resources in L.A., gets back to me about my exact performance dates at his gallery, I’ll have to rewrite my Kim Jong-un Global Karaoke performance, and all news about North Korea written up by U.S. news outlets is a priori filtered through the Trumpian agenda. Looks like Trump’s top advisers are telling him he’s wrong in thinking that North Korea will fully denuclearize, he doesn’t believe them—plus ça change. When I tire of Trump—Kim—Media-threeway voyeurism, I like to check in with the side ho’s of the news. What’s Kim Jong-un’s BFF, Dennis Rodman, up to? Dennis Rodman—well—supports Dennis Rodman.

I miss when he was vaguely bisexual and banged exercise video Playboy models.

At Charles Mayton and Pat Palermo’s live-work loft in Greenwood Heights, Charles cooks the most insane Southern fried chicken dinner, it’s so good it’s almost racist. We are talking collards with hog, cast-iron cornbread, and mac and cheese. I am one bite away from being a borderline obese Netflix special about a rich minority with a personality disorder who likes to eat.

It’s weird how a good meal can convert you to anything. I once went to a part of the Rutgers U campus in New Brunswick, N.J., where they have food trucks all grouped together that only serve sandwiches called “_____ Fat Bitches,” so-called because they are just regular foil-wrapped sandwiches stuffed with French fries, and decided after eating an entire “Greek Fat Bitch,” aka a gyro fucked with fries, that I could imagine myself moving into a punk house in New Brunswick and starting a new life as a printmaking Asian dreadlock—thankfully that didn’t happen. I think I was in New Brunswick to see the band Growing, please don’t judge.

Anyway, at Mayton and Palermo’s loft, I meet David Moo, who was the director of a Black Mass at Harvard for the Satanic Temple. Despite what it sounds like, the Satanic Temple is not a group of dorks who want to let Lucifer bang their goth girlfriends while they listen to Ozzy. The Satanic Temple is more of a protest group that challenges the Religious Right’s moral hegemony in governmental policies, and specifically protects the rights of non-Christians and atheists. The director Penny Lane made a documentary film called Hail Satan! about them that I’m dying to go see. Maybe I’ll start saying I’m a Satanist. Could be cool.

Charles is one of my favorite painters out there and Pat makes these unreal, hilariously self-deprecating comics about art and life in NYC called Live/Work!

Meet up with Sam Taffel, my friend and cinematographer/editor for my video Intolerable Whiteness, at Spain in the West Village. Spain is the CHEERS bar for kids who watch FRIENDS when they’re depressed. Pompadoured, ancient waiters will fetch you a new glass of red wine when you’re 2 sips into your last. Budget-minded art bros and bro-ettes like this place because they serve free tapas that are sprayed with so much Frank’s Red Hot that I’m sure eating there prevents STDs and pregnancy. I met Sam when I did a performance called #themalso? at Performance Space’s Avant-Garde-A-Rama 1 year ago. At each performance, I asked for a volunteer from the audience to be my paid $20 boyfriend–Sam, the scene-chewing hero that he is, volunteered. After making him give me a deep butt massage and allowing me to swing an aluminum baseball bat at his crotch to the ESPN Jock Jams remix, I kissed him and paid him off. You could say it was a good job interview because just a month later I hired him to be my right hand in producing, shooting, and editing a video piece. He’s a baby genius and I tell him so when I can. Still this does not stop me from texting him randomly every 6 weeks begging him not to out me as a #metoo. He’s a good guy so he tells me not to worry, he’ll wait till I have enough money to fully silence him. That’s when I know I made the right call to make him my in-house editor at Seung-Min Lee Studios.

Sam and I drink 9 glasses of beer and wine, respectively. Our tab is a whopping $60. Jah Bless Spain.

I wow my Uber driver home by intuiting his entire life story, because he has French hip-hop on when I get in. So naturally I know, he must be an Algerian accounting student and the baby of his family who is trying to find his way. I recommend he become an actuary because he seems to have artistic passions that won’t be met by the field of accounting. He kisses my hand and tells me I’m psychic. I say no, no it’s just the expulsions of a worldweary ho who dresses like Kim Jong-un and sings Rage Against the Machine for art crowds. It’s stunts like these that have garnered me a pretty high rider rating on Uber. Good Conversationalist. 5 Stars.

Friday

I wake up so deep in self-loathing that no amount of “Ask the Mayor” on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC-FM is going to cure. So I go into a K-hole of watching Natasha Lyonne’s Netflix show Russian Doll. It’s pretty much Groundhog Day set in the East Village. All the art hipsters one generation older than me make cameos: Waris Ahluwalia, Lizzi Bougatsos, and Chloe Sevigny. I feel like I’m dead and reborn as an extra in a high school yearbook where I’ve only made it in to the photos because I’m a yearbook editor.

I go to my good friend Alisa Baremboym’s studio in Maspeth, aka the part of Queens where I spent my adolescence. It’s so strange for me to go to Maspeth now to see my artist friends in their studios because I feel like my entire childhood was built around escaping this place that most people only find out about if they live in Brooklyn and miss three UPS delivery attempts and are forced to take a bus from an ungodly far off depot into the wasteland between Williamsburg and Ridgewood just to pick up an Amazon box of fake iPhone chargers and palo santo.

Alisa is a sculptor’s sculptor and we collaborated on a performance at Luxembourg & Dayan called The Memory Palace, where we turned this classy Upper East Side townhouse gallery into a multi-story water slide with full audience participation. We might have been trying to illustrate the hubris of trickle-down economics and the deleterious effects of technology on our collective remembering of history. She’s showing me pieces she’s been working on made from moldable concrete sheets that I am in love with. So I show my love to her work in the only way I know how, complete vulnerability.

Saturday

I go to my friend Jazz Leeb’s studio in Bushwick. He’s a little skater derelict and has been out all day clearing ice at a spot with his pro-skater friend Mark Suciu so they can shoot a video and looks like shit. Fortunately he’s a consummate professional, and we get through a studio visit where he shows me art that only a millennial with 45 jobs can make, aka really serious, well-crafted, weird shit. He went to high school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and he’s made these beautiful wax wall pieces based on the portrait of the chick that shaved her head and his own high school ID from that time. He’s also trying to make stuff out of iPhone screens he finds on the street, so I do a self-portrait of my iPhone in the iPhone screen. It was very meta, maybe you had to be there.

Jazz and I go for a much-needed post-visit drink at Birdy’s on Myrtle-Broadway.

Simone Frazier meets up with us. She and I go to a punk venue in outer Bushwick that looks like if bed bugs built a city for techno nerds. We see her friend’s band Further Reductions, but everyone in this scene is a Dark Crystal muppet, and I’m not sure if it’s the acid talking, but it’s a great night to be at a venue that is next door to an indoor skate ramp that looks like it belongs in Deitch Projects circa 2005.

Sunday

Eric Kim from Human Resources in L.A. texts me “Happy Year of The Pig.” It’s a relief both because he’s the first non-white a/k/a properly ASIAN person to wish me this, and I’ve been waiting for him to get back to me about dates for my show! Looks like I’ll be doing it in April 12–14 during the L.A. Art Book Fair. I ask him if there’s a budget for me to reproduce this Intercontinental Ballistic Missile for my Kim Jong-un show, but better!

It’s a collaborative piece by Spencer Sweeney, Kembra Pfahler, and Urs Fischer that is a 9’-tall disco penis that during my performance is hidden inside a giant cardboard missile, that I reveal during Kim Jong-un’s rendition of the Elton John song “Rocket Man.” I “circumcise” the missile live during the show—it’s a pretty climactic moment that I would hope any gallerist would understand is a necessary pre-condition for my performance.

Eric the gallerist tells me he’s got a Chinese New Year poker game set up to “work on my budget.” I have good feelings about this.

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