In preparation for his solo exhibition, Michael Lee (CS'97) scribbled excuses in different coloured chalk on the walls of an empty white room no bigger than four square metres.
These excuses were not his. They were submitted online by participants, who were not able to attend his art exhibition titled, “I can’t, I have to go to Mongolia”.
Even after 20 years in the art scene, 48-year-old Lee finds it a struggle to attend his peers and other artists’ shows. Instead, he is usually busy completing his various projects and teaching at Lasalle College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
Lee asked himself, “How can it be that I don’t turn up for other people’s shows and expect them to turn up for mine?”
Hence, he decided that this show would be for people like him – artists, creators and anyone else who struggle to turn up but would still like to support the show in some form.
The free exhibition was held at Comma Space at Jalan Pemimpin, an experimental art space founded by fellow artists, Sai Hua Kuan and Wang Ruobing.
At his opening on 13 February, the room was packed with participants, even spilling out of the room and into the corridor.
Despite the Ministry of Health declaring Dorscon Orange on 7 February, many who submitted their excuses still came to support Lee’s show anyway.
“There is a built-in mechanism in the project whereby participants can choose the option of not being there physically. For friends and strangers who want to be a part of the project, they already can submit their excuses online,” he said.
Many of the attendees were Lee’s peers and students, some of whom performed for his opening show. The performances ranged from improvisational comedy skits of the excuses to musical performances and poetry readings.
However, Lee admits that he struggled to attend his peers’ show, especially in the past, when he was constantly busy with large-scale projects.
“I’m glad that I got it done because the topic I was dabbling in is something that a substantial number of people working in the arts can relate to, especially if they are in a similar situation as me.”
Michael Lee (CS’97), visual artist
Lee has showcased his work in over 80 exhibitions all over the world since 2001. His impressive list of exhibitions includes The 3rd Singapore Biennale in 2011 and other shows in Japan, China, Germany, England.
From 2003 to 2013, his work referenced architectural language and issues in the form of small scale buildings or model drawings.
“Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated looking at buildings, but especially construction sites,” said Lee.
Being an architect was one of his aspirations but when the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information first opened after he completed his National Service, Lee decided to pursue his other dream of being a television commercial director.
After completing his bachelors and masters at WKWSCI and working as a TVC director for a year, Lee felt that it was not suitable for him and entered the art field as an art history teacher at NAFA in 2000. There, he was able to pursue his interest and hone his craft and had his first exhibition by 2001.
These days, Lee’s work has shifted from focusing on architectural discipline to the community.
“It was based on a mindset change,” he said.
“Before this, I would think that I had no time for community art because of my own personal work.”
At the end of his 10-day exhibition Lee said: “I’m glad that I got it done because the topic I was dabbling in is something that a substantial number of people working in the arts can relate to, especially if they are in a similar situation as me.”
“I’m happy that I did this work that is both personally and socially meaningful.”