Alexander Lee
ME-TI'A - An Island Standing, 2017

Video still: Courtesy the artist
Video still: Courtesy the artist

Single-channel video installation, color, sound
20 min
Commissioned by TBA21–Academy
With the support of Air Tahiti Nui, Official Travel Partner of Alexander Lee

Alexander Lee, a participant in TBA21–Academy’s Marquesas expedition in his native French Polynesia, carefully reconsiders the imaginary of the desert island. If imagination is a fundamental human need, “[w]hat must be recovered is the mythological life of the deserted island”[1] beyond worn-out commonplaces. Lee’s video revolves around Mehetia, a volcanic hotspot east of Tahiti from which all of the Society Islands have emerged, and the youngest island in this archipelago. Its relevance for the geological formation of the region echoes in local mythology. In the creation myth titled “The Departure of the Fish” related by Teuira Henry in 1935, Me-ti’a (thing-standing) is the mouth excretion of the fish as which Tahiti is often represented. The legend is a mnemonic apparatus to remember the names and affiliations of island territories and the way they were populated. Today, Mehetia is uninhabited, but a marae site bears witness to former habitants, their beliefs and ancient cosmologies. Lee visited Mehetia on a boat expedition and documented the volcano and its oceanic surroundings in photography and moving image.

This video is the first step in a possible process of acquiring the island collectively through a crowdfunding campaign in which each individual contribution will be restricted to 1 Euro, a price enabling anybody to become a co-owner and warranting each participant an equal share in the project. The video examines the process of realizing the dream of owning a piece of land in the Pacific, legal correspondence with notaries alongside information about the geological formation, myths and legends, and the possibility, if so desired collectively by the co-owners, to turn it into a marine protected area upon acquisition. But first and foremost, the video includes imagery of Mehetia and the oceans surrounding the island that discuss the collective imaginary and fantasies of the piece of land that is to be acquired jointly, and will become part of the crowdfunding campaign.
Alexander Lee was born in Stockton, CA, and grew-up in Tahiti, French Polynesia. He earned his BFA from the School of Visual Arts, his MFA from Columbia University, and MPS from the Interactive Telecommunication Program at New York University. Lee' s trilogy, THE DEPARTURE OF THE FISH, titled after the creation myth of the island of Tahiti, premiered at Kinkead Contemporary, Los Angeles in 2006 and at Clementine Gallery, New York in 2007. His subsequent projects, RECITATIONS FROM THE GREAT FISH CHANGING SKIES (2008), and EXPANDING-EEL-DEVOURER (2009) continue his interest in storytelling and the anthropic process.THE TUPAPAU WITHIN (2010-2011) followed, a stage piece about the inner beasts at play in the creative process. His subsequent projects, THE BOTANIST and THE BOTANICAL FACTORY, visual synthesis on post-colonial transformation, have been presented in Singapore, Las Vegas, São Paulo, and Antwerp.

For the 2017 Honolulu Biennial, Lee's instalation, "TE VAHINE MANA RA O PERE (The Great Godess Pere) - L'Aube où les Fauves viennent se désaltérer" posits France's 30 years of nuclear tests in the Pacific (and its emblematic nuclear mushroom cloud) as a historic continuation of the volcanic erruption at the genesis of the geologic formation of the Polynesian islands. For "A Temporary Futures Institute" currently on view at MHKA, Antwerp, Lee made THE SENTINELS, a continuous mural painting covering the 4500m2 of the exhibition space and turning the exhibitions space into a timeline of Polynesian signs.

In 2017, Lee's work has been featured at the Honolulu Biennial and in A Temporary Futures Institute currently on view at MHKA, Antwerp. In Tahiti, Lee is part of 'ŌRAMA Studio, a collective of Polynesian artists.

[1] Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles / New York, 2004, p. 13