Tim Lee: Cohan and Leslie
Wilson, Michael, Artforum International
"Party for Your Right to Fight"--a mocking inversion of the hedonistic Beastie Boys rallying cry "Fight for Your Right to Party"--is the title of a key track on Public Enemy's peerless 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. In his two-channel video Party for Your Right to Fight, Public Enemy, 1988 (all works 2006), Korean-born, Vancouver-based artist Tim Lee enacts his own, doubled inversion: On each of the two monitors, we see the artist, shot in close-up and spinning like a record on twin decks while reciting the song's lyrics. The two channels are out of sync, and, adding to the sense of disorientation, the images are inverted--Lee is upside down. The direct reference to Bruce Nauman's video installation Anthro-Socio, 1992, is intentionally transparent: Each and every work in this, Lee's second solo outing at Cohan and Leslie, mashes up the oeuvre of the influential elder artist with that of the influential (though now sadly diluted) hip-hop collective.
Lee's enterprise is somewhat boys-clubby: Both Nauman and Public Enemy have been identified with a certain brutality of address that, while it doesn't explicitly exclude women, certainly exudes a certain machismo. But the aim here is clearly something more than unreconstructed hero-worship. The artist's muddying of "Party for Your Right to Fight"'s political argument in It Takes a Nation of Millions, attained through the clamorous juxtaposition of the two slightly out-of-sync recitations, unquestionably achieves the philosophical "flattening" mentioned in the press release, but does it accomplish anything in pointing up the correspondence between Nauman's visual/verbal investigation and the rappers' revolutionary rage? Why pair these two particular creative forces at this particular moment?
If Lee's point is simply that the radicalisms represented by Public Enemy (musical and political) and Nauman (aesthetic and conceptual) have softened, gained acceptance, or been sidelined since each was at the height of its power, It Takes a Nation of Millions may be judged a success, but the achievement would seem decidedly muted. …