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Susie J. Lee: A New Media Sensualist Reaches Out


Susie J. Lee. "Still Lives: Exposure," 2010. HD video portrait in framed, matted LED monitor. Courtesy of the artist and Lawrimore Project. Photo: Ryan K. Adams.

Walk through new media artist Susie J. Lee’s Rain Shower (2007 / 2012) at the Frye Art Museum, and you become a part of the piece.

As you cross the dark, seemingly empty gallery, patterns of light fall on you, and you are bathed in a subtle, sensual barrage of sound and soft color. Sometimes you hear whispers, sometimes singing, and at other times booming and crackling, overlaid with slow, tinkling piano music. Your own footfalls join the symphony of noises. It’s like tasting a madeleine à la Proust, or being lost in a Tarkovsky film; the sensory experience sweeps you into a dreamlike state, you lose all sense of time, and you enter the realm of memory.

Susie J. Lee came to Seattle to study ceramics at the University of Washington, but by the time she received her MFA in 2006, she was known for her innovative video art. Seattle Weekly named her the “2006 Emerging Artist of the Year,” and accolades have rained down on her ever since, from the 2010 Stranger Visual Art Genius Award to the Portland Art Museum’s 2011 Northwest Contemporary Art Award.

Lee, declared an “Artist to Watch” by top journal ARTnews, is definitely the artist to catch in the coming months, with two solo shows in Seattle and a coveted spot in The 10th Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum.  While Lee’s installations, videos and art objects draw heavily on technology, human experience lies at the heart of her pieces, from our sense of time and memory to our need to reach out. To fully appreciate the impact of her art, you have to experience it for yourself.

Unplug, Try Again at the Lawrimore Project, Lee’s third solo exhibition at the contemporary art gallery, runs through Mar. 31. The show’s highlight: the Northwest premiere of Lee’s Contact (2011), a 12”X12” wooden box with pencil-lead bulbs that light up when you call, email or text the piece. Hooked up to a cell phone and computer, the piece reacts with each virtual touch and even texts you after you’ve left the show.

Of Breath and Rain, Lee’s exhibition at the Frye—her first solo museum show, but the last one to be curated at the Frye by Robin Held—runs through Apr. 15 and showcases her signature works Rain Shower and Still Lives: Exposure (2010). Part of a series of 30-minute video portraits of elderly residents of the Washington Care Center that recreate Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings, Still Lives represents more than just the artist’s take on her subjects or a filmed meditation on human mortality: They show a deep, trusting collaboration with the residents, who have presented the viewer with a 30-minute slice of their lives.

More portraits in Lee’s Still Lives series are on display at The 10th Northwest Biennial now through May 20 at Tacoma Art Museum. Lee is one of 30 artists selected by museum curator Rock Hushka and art critic Renato Rodrigues da Silva for this group show in honor of the museum’s 75th anniversary.

To discover more of Lee’s art, visit


Frye Art Museum: 704 Terry Avenue, Seattle. T-Su 11 am-5 pm. Th 11 am-7 pm.

The Lawrimore Project: 117 S Main St., Suite 101, Seattle. W-Sa, 11 am-5:30 pm.

Tacoma Art Museum: 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma. W-Su, 10 am-5 pm. Th 11am-8 pm from Mar. 22 to Jun. 7.