Daniel Lee


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Zoodiak / AKTIVIST

1. As Chinese living in US you combine elements of eastern and western tradition in your art. (Please develop)

Some New York art critics had said that; the '70s and '80s used to be "Conceptualism", and the start of the '90s would be the "Mixed-culturalism". I'm very lucky as an immigrant artist be able to live in the art district of New York City for 20 years, which brought me a lot of influence and motivation from modern art activities. Meanwhile I still carry a very rich background from the east, allowing me to express my artistic fantasies by using international language.

2. Process, gradual change, evolution play an essential role in your works. How and why is the idea of process important to you?

Well, I had been always fascinating, and wondering about our past. I believe in Darwin's evolution theories but there's not enough evidence about the progress in the past millions of year. Recent computer technology is offering artists the unlimited options of digital imaging; I think thought that evolution would be a perfect subject.

3.What is the process that your images have to go through?

The first thing involved for a new project would be finding models. I prefer using ordinary people as models. They could be my artist friends or people interested in my work. All of the models were photographed in studio under strobe lighting in front of gray seamless paper. I used a Lite Phase digital camera back on a Hasselblad camera; the images would be in Photoshop format. I normally choose to reshape the face first; to pick an area with a soft-edge and then work it through such transformation tools as Scale/Distort/Rotate until it fits the shape I wanted. I also use the Rubber Stamp, Burn and Dodge tools a lot in detail retouching. Then I’ll do the same thing over the nose, the mouth, the eyes and the body... I could spend days to a few weeks working on the same image in many different versions.
Eventually, to go through outputs and corrections could also become important stage as the final processing.

4.What response do you get from audience? Why?

People usually get pretty strong responses. They either like it or hate it; some people could get scared from watching my work.
I think because it was a new experience for most viewers. The realism of the work allowed viewers to register the work as a real photograph, and not just art. I think people received the work the way they did in part because I created images that were visually closer in appearance to humans, allowing viewers to relate to the humanistic aspect of each piece.

5. Are the images of Manimals a result of playfulness or do you really believe in animal instincts in people, hidden nature?

I grew up in a conservative country surrounded by Buddhism. The Buddhists believe in reincarnation and the circle of life, which includes humans and animals. But I rather believed in Darwin’s evolution and I think that we still retain some animal instincts within our behavior as well as some physical resemblances.

6. What/ who inspires you? 7. What can technology do for art? Life? You?

As I mentioned before, I was pretty lucky to be living in the art district of Soho since the late the 70’s. There were art exhibitions all around me and at the time, I was working as a commercial photographer. I did a lot experimental photographs in my spare time, but I still felt that photography was pretty limited comparing to other art forms. It was the technology of a personal computer that made my dreams comes true.

7. Do you feel that your art develops? Where does this process lead you? What are your new ideas?

Well, I've been questioning myself with questions like this all of the time. I wish that I have a positive answer to tell you but it really gets difficult. My new ideas originate from ideas that I come up with or ideas I see from the world around us. I feel that my art is developing and each project has been more and more challenging.