One moment in time which cannot be repeated


Brisbane-born Lindy Lee’s engagement with Buddhist thought has become increasingly important to the way that she both conceptually and physically approaches the creation of new works. Reflecting upon the inspiration for her bronze sculptures, Lee cites her desire to extend the traditional Chinese meditation technique of flung ink calligraphy, ‘in which you meditate, then take up a flask of ink and you splash it on paper and everything in the universe has conspired until that moment to deliver that action.’1 After learning this technique in 1995 during a residency in Beijing, Lee incorporated the action into her painting practice on return to Australia. It was not until 2009 that she began to test this approach in the sculptural realm, making a series of ‘flung bronze’. Organising herself into a meditative state, she would then pour liquid molten bronze onto the foundry floor without trying to dictate the shape. Once polished, these flat, shinny, fluid forms were mounted onto the wall in circular and rectangular shapes with a clean and crisp geometric outline.

More recently, however, Lee has expanded this technique into standalone sculptures, such as the impressive Unnameable 2017 (illustrated). To create this artwork, Lee hurled molten lead into viscous custard. The resulting shape was then 3D-scanned to create a scaled-up mould, which was used to cast the final bronze piece. The result is a lively form that has the dynamic appearance of liquid suspended in motion. The forces of gravity, space and time appear to have been exceeded, yet harmoniously balanced.

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Lindy Lee, Australia b.1954 / Unnameable 2017 / Bronze / 150 x 80 x 100cm / Purchased 2020 with funds from the QAGOMA Foundation and Cathryn Mittelheuser AM / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Lindy Lee

Unnameable captures one moment in time which cannot be repeated. Moreover, it also contains every moment that preceded it and all that will follow — asserting a sense of continuum. This directly ties into the understanding of Cha’an meditation as a practice that links the body and mind in the present moment to the eternal cosmos. For Lee, the gesture of throwing ink or bronze is a meditative practice — focussed on the action of creation rather than a series of aesthetic decisions — that leaves an object which can also engender a meditative state in the viewer.

Unnameable also connects to ‘gongshi’, the Chinese aesthetic tradition of scholar’s rocks. Like the most revered gongshi, Lee’s sculpture is asymmetrical with a rippled surface and glossy finish. The naturally formed stones are prized for their capacity to convey the idea that transformation is central to understanding nature. In this respect, gongshi function as microcosms of the universe. Lee notes that time and change is at the centre of her artistic practice and has been since the 1980s, even if she might not have understood this earlier in her career. Lee explains:

Time is the most basic component of our humanity, but it takes a long time to realise that. My work is all about time. In Zen Buddhism the essence of being — or the fabric of being — is time. The primary truth is that everything changes from moment to moment – nothing is permanent. That means us too. For me, this is a very beautiful and poetic way of describing and embracing existence.2

Lee embraces change as a constant presence in her work. With more than three decades of practice behind her, Lee continues to deftly express the infinite expanse of life and art.

Ellie Buttrose is Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, QAGOMA

1-2 The artist in conversation with Peter McKay, Curatorial Manager, Australian Art, and Ellie Buttrose, Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, 21 February 2020.