Monday, November 30, 2009

Who Do You Look Like?

Artist Nikki S. Lee in her own clothes.

The thing about clothing is that it transforms you. Most people don't even realize how much what they wear says about them, but think about it: You are a walking identity billboard. Maybe you are in fact more complex than your jeans, t, and sneaks would convey, but no one passing you in the street would know that. You are read all the time. What you wear can classify your gender, class, music taste, occupation, subcultural affiliations, marital status, and more. Do you realize that? That your shoes say something about you? Yeah, again, most people don't. But Nikki S. Lee, the artist who hides herself in plain sight, does.

The hip-hop project.

The Skateboarders Project.

The Yuppie Project.

The Punk Project.

The Hispanic Project.

The Tourist Project.

The Seniors Project.

The Swingers Project.

Her process goes like this: She observes a subculture, taking note of everything from their outer appearances to their nuanced gestures and then she adopts them. She dons the clothing, hairstyle, makeup, and accessories (perhaps a poodle, perhaps a nosering) and lives among them for a number of months. While she's blending in, she asks a new friend of the group to take snapshots of her with a regular little point-and-shoot. The results are like a Where's Waldo of fine art. Nikki's own ethnic identity as a Korean-born American eventually gives her away among her new crowd, but only after close inspection. The woman is that good. Whether she's living with punks, yuppies, Mid-Western farmers, or countesses, her appropriation of the most subtle aspect of their dress goes beyond costume and approaches absolute authenticity. Her work elucidates exactly what fascinates me so much about clothing, about fashion. It isn't frivolous at all. Even when you say you don't care about style or fashion or clothes, when you hate to shop, you are still getting dressed. So, why that shirt? Why that color? That style? Why aren't you wearing a Black Flagg tee instead? Who taught you how to get dressed? What did they tell you? If you took that outfit off, and put it on the ground in front of me--what could I reconstruct about your life; about who you are? Probably more than you think.

You can peruse a selection of Nikki S. Lee's photographs at her gallery's website:

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