Fi Jae Lee: The Body Possessed by Media

by on Aug.06, 2010

Fi Jae Lee, Mememememememe (candle)

Can a body be possessed by media? It’s a trick (and tricky) question, since a medium, in the occult sense, is supposed to be possessed by others. If an entity can be possessed by a medium, or, worse, by media, it is then opened to all kinds of possession, penetration, contents it cannot contain, overcrowding, doubling up, debility and damage. Deformation and eclipses, ellipses, reemergence and reemergence.

The gist of these metaphors calls to mind the libels directed at immigrants by nativists in most parts of the world—that immigrants crowd the space, use up the resources, create waste, destroy property, crowd out the job market, live in crowded living spaces, over-impregnate, make loud music, cook loud food, dress provokingly, wear the wrong skin, crash the state or (in America) crash emergency rooms with their bodily catastrophes. Such licit fantasies reverse the actual power dynamic in which the established population holds final power over the immigrant’s body.

But what if we reverse this current of thought, construing the foreign body as the one which is infiltrated, possessed, crowded, crashed with catastrophe?

Fi Jae Lee, Le Massacre de Jesus Egoiste

In this reversed current of thought, rather than the body of the state, the foreigner’s body becomes mediumistic and is itself run through, suppurated, saturated with further media,  conduit of infection, irritation, correction, image, odor and noise, and worst of all: more bodies.

The Korean artist Fi Jae Lee’s work operates in this zone of contamination, inflammation and metasization. Her work is multimedia, but with none of the technophilic, flow-chartish nicety and expertise that term has begun to imply. There are too many media here, too many, even, for the multimedia environment of the Internet—her website has too many images to get a sense of the whole body of work; so much text crowds the text window that the scrollbars must be constantly manipulated to bring more into view; on my screen the crucial scrollbars are occluded. As for her art work itself, it involves sculpture, painting, installation, monologues, her own body and hair, the performance of rituals. As much as they are brimming over with color, texture, scale, activity and sensation, they are also lousy with text, text which is a bad fit for the artwork, in that it seems to occupy a testy, inflamed adjacency.

Fi Jae Lee, Le Massacre de Jesus Egoiste

Lee’s work Le Massacre de Jesus Egoiste is a multimedia performance which occurred in France and Chicago; on the Internet it’s a heap of photographs attended by a tract which substitutes for an artist’s statement, in which she asserts “I am selfish Jesus.” She reveals:

I am a medium between God and people. I will not die. Although my body will die someday in some ways, my soul will keep resurrecting in people’s minds forever.

Here we have Jesus as the contaminating medium—as a selfish, parasitic medium. He/she/Jesus/Fi Jae Lee mediates ‘between’ God and people, but he/she/Jesus/Fi Jae Lee also passes into a second medium, “people’s minds” from whence he/she/Jesus/Fi Jae Lee reboots inexhaustibly “forever.” However, this is not the end of the Moebius like hypermediumicity and hyperposession balling up in the piece:

As the Selfish Jesus, I have realized that the unbreakable and fundamental energy, which established and maintains the world, is our selfish desires. Unfortunately, people hardly ever attain this knowledge because of what I call, “the skin,” which wraps and hides the desire. For those blinded by “the skin,” I do a barbarous orgy whose name is “The Massacre of The Scissors Woman.”

Here one medium, Selfish Jesus, already possessed by Fi Jae Lee (or vice versa), does battle with another medium, “the skin”, taking up the medium of “scissors.” As the tract specifies,

To enter the orgy of “the Scissors Woman,” people draw the faces of human beings who they bitterly hate. “The Waitress,” the priestess of the Selfish Jesus attaches the cursed faces on each headless doll scattered around her, and brings the dolls to the scissors. I ruthlessly cut the heads off. The heads fall into the pond of blood. Dangling arteries, I soak the blood to behead more and more heads. Opening their thickest “skin,” all human beings in the ceremony fall into extremely delightful feeling.

The dangling modifier “dangling arteries” suggests the ways bodies have been distressed by this performance—do the arteries dangle from “the heads” or from Selfish Jesus? Meanwhile, the blood somehow becomes a medium for beheading as well as a supersaturatable medium which can become ‘soaked’ with itself. Audience participation adds more bodies to the ritual; audience bodies become one more medium in the already supersaturated space. But the ritual keeps producing more personae—the Mistress of the Scissors, the Waitress, the Selfish Jesus, the dolls and their heads, the evil skin and the capacious blood. But lest that settle things, the Selfish Jesus also wishes

wish I could squeeze myself into the cracks of everyone’s “skins.” Settling down there, I will boom boom boom beat “the skins” to stimulate their desires. They shall call the Selfish Jesus again to liberate their desires.

It is impossible to be free of the inlooping, parasitical media, what some might call a ‘feedback loop.” The parasite artist/messiah’s job is to irritate this interrelationship, to prompt a continual production and destruction of media, which then sites the human as the medium through which both the violence and a “delightful feeling” wells.

Fi Jae Lee, My Shrine

It’s easier to assess this work through the text than through the text *and* the photographs, the photographs which in their multiplicity depict more and less than we want to see. In the photographs we get a sense of an art that is simultaneously pressing out of and into the space of itself, into and out of the roomsized installations, becoming herniated, cartoonish, bursting and suppurating. Fabric forms and sharp-looking stalactitic “shrines”, photographic doll heads which compress the images of the face weirdly to two dimensions and refuse to produce an organizing third dimension, strange clear liquids that float hair and bend light, a shin-bruising fountain of wine, a woman with her body and face obscured in the garbage-like heaps of her work. Odor and texture aren’t visible in these sticky photos, yet they aren’t detached from them, either.  Instead they are made present in the way the images stutter, replicate and stick to each other, never settling down into a nice 360 degree “installation view.”

Lee arrived at her autoproducing jelly-like mediumicity upon watching a documentary about disability:

After having recovered their lost sensory capacities through an operation, they suffered more acutely from the sudden deluge of light or sound than when they had lived with the disabilities. Our senses both require the ability to sense as well as to edit. I was shuddering under the unfamiliar environment and language much like people with such disabilities. I wanted to materialize the chaotic state in my work.

The “chaotic state” is the body’s shudder, unable to regulate its own mediumicity and absorbed in an at first responsive but then self-generating spasm. Her work doesn’t safely “replicate” or “recreate” this state, but “materialize[s]“ it, creating a mediumistic extension or surplus with which her own body is conjoined. As she later remarks on smelling scorched dried squid, upon her return to Seoul:  “In a sense, the border of a community can be translated into boundaries of the senses. The reeking odor of grilled squid is the other as well as the abjection of the West.” This is the signature gesture of Fi Jae Lee’s art, this diffused and jelly-like body of work, not to exemplify or illustrate but to reek, to permeate, to particalize and infiltrate the brain of the perceiver through the porous nasal passage, even as the work itself breaks down, becomes disorganized, is destroyed yet malingers.

As Lee’s mother comments, “Your workspace reeks of putrefying smell.”

Fi Jae Lee, everything ascending into heaven smells rotten

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11 comments for this entry:
  1. Montevidayo « BIG OTHER

    […] It started when my friend Johannes Goransson felt he had hit a wall with his popular Exoskeleton blog; he wanted to bring in more voices. I’m writing for it (but don’t think that means it’s going to slow down my prolific Big Other output), as is Joyelle McSweeney and a whole bunch of other people. Joyelle just dropped a post asking whether the media can be possessed by a body. […]

  2. john

    Watching Lee’s work consumed by it’s own medium brings to my some of the work the Fort Thunder artists did, Brian Chippendale’s comics, for instance. Or the way Paper Rad has lost control of its website, and often its moves.

  3. don mee

    Fantastic work, Fi!
    And another great post, Joyelle. I love your reversed thought about the immigrant’s body. It highlights the Korean Shaman’s bodily zone—-her identity/body, condemned and marginalized by society, is possessed and dangled with deathly things such as the dead, ghosts, spirits.

    In honor of that zone of danglement, here is Lee’s mother’s (Kim Hyesoon) “Red Scissors Woman”:

    “(Does that blood live inside me?)
    (Do I live inside that blood?)

    That woman who walks ahead
    That woman who walks and rips
    with her scorching body her cold shadow”

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    […] Joyelle McSweeney on Korean artist Fi-Jae Lee and “the body possessed by media”: Can a body be possessed by media? It’s a trick (and tricky) question, since a medium, in the […]

  10. john appesat

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