Reviews, News and Commentary

Yona Lee rearranges life into five rooms

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Yona Lee: An Arrangement for 5 Rooms

Auckland Art Gallery
Until October 2

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

When you first encounter Yona Lee’s installation “An Arrangement for 5 Rooms” from the stairway at the South Atrium of the Auckland Art Gallery, the handrail on your right doesn’t end at the top of the steps like a normal handrail. It just keeps going, becoming part of a maze of interlinked pipes,  becoming part of the architecture.

Many years ago, when I worked at MOW Power Design a Bauhaus trained architect on the staff asked me about a handrail I had designed, wanting to know what it was saying  apart from my notions of functionality. For him the handrail was not just there to hold onto, it was an extension of the eye, the hand and the footstep, leading them into the next space. It was not just a utilitarian addition to the architecture it was an intimate part and experience of it.

Lee’s installation provides that idea of design and architecture being more than pragmatic shapes and spaces. The network of pipes alerts us to  the hidden infrastructure of pipes, tubes and conduits which are all around us but often invisible, underground and inside walls. These become metaphors for interconnectedness of the world in general.

Across five rooms she has installed a maze-like construction from hundreds of metres of stainless-steel pipe of the same shape and texture as the gallery’s handrail taking the hand and eye into a series of surreal Alice in Wonderland-like spaces. The circuitous pipes are both a guide to travelling through the spaces and an experience of the spaces.

In the journey through the five rooms we encounter a domestic interior, a café, a bus, a picnic area and possibly a public bathhouse.

The lone  double bus seat sits with its back to the view of Albert Park and a room away is the bus call button (which can be buzzed) and a hanging strap fixed to a pipe five metres above.

The domestic interior is like a small apartment – a bunk room, a dining space, work bench some hanging plants and a fan which gently blows a shower curtain.

Some of the piping snakes outside through the windows of the gallery to an outside “picnic” area under the trees in Albert Park. It features a table, two benches an umbrella and at night the shapes are picked out in neon tubing. There is also a letterbox stuffed with some irises.

Her constructions recall the quote of Le Corbusier’s that “A house is a machine for living in” and also the exposed functional structural and utilitarian elements of the Pompidou Centre in Paris

The artist  says of the work “‘My ambition for this project is to activate the whole building. To break down the barriers between what is art and non-art, the inside and outside, the day and night, and the public and private. The highlight of the work is where it transitions from the inside to the outside. There is a sense of freedom in this moment that I believe is necessary for this current environment.”

The show is open-ended with various interpretations – as structures or systems, as serious or playful, as authoritarian or utopian, as utilitarian or pointless. But there is one unanswered question – who delivers the irises each day.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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