Lee Mingwei is known for creating poetic installations that connect artist and audience, and which change over time. Often taking form as open-ended scenarios, past projects have variously set up moments of cultural exchange, foregrounded gestures of trust, and cultivated dialogue between strangers. Lee has also presented a number of one-on-one events, where visitors are invited to contemplate notions of self-awareness and intimacy by engaging in simple acts with the artist – sleeping, eating, walking, conversation, and other everyday activities.

For the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Lee presents a new iteration of Guernica in Sand, 2006/2016. The work takes Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, 1937 – a powerful political painting created in immediate response to the massacre of Basque civilians during the Spanish Civil War – as both a reference and a point of departure. Lee’s intention was to offer ‘a different view of the damage done when human beings are victimized. Instead of simply being critical of what happened in the Basque town of Guernica in 1937, I wanted to use the concept of impermanence as a lens for focusing on such violent events in terms of the ongoing phenomena of destruction and creation.’[1] To make this work, the artist recreates the exact lines of Picasso’s famous piece with sand and then, later, alters it. Guernica in Sand is allowed to rest, existing in a state of suspension, until it is first walked on by members of the public, and then swept with bamboo brooms, in a one-off performance that takes place over the course of a single day. This simultaneous act of obliteration and re-creation results in an altogether new work, where formerly precise lines are reimagined as intuitive abstract and sweeping gestural forms. The performance is a reminder of the impermanence that inspired Lee to make this monumental work – a necessary characteristic of existence and an integral part of larger cycles of destruction and creation. As Lee says, sand has an inherent capacity to symbolise these processes:  ‘… its “lifespan” includes being “born” from the erosion of rock by the action of water or wind, and being reformed into rock by the action of pressure or heat’.[2]

Ephemeral gestures are always nuanced within Lee’s works, and here the focus is directed towards ‘the creative power of transformation rather than to the pain caused by clinging to things as they are’.[3] A poignant reminder of passing time, the work is in a perpetual state of flux – and deliberately so; it never settles, much like the elaborate Tibetan sand mandalas destroyed by the same Buddhist monks who painstakingly create them, and which disappear in far less time than they take to make. With Guernica in Sand, Lee Mingwei draws our awareness to the interdependence that exists between all things, the temporal relationships of cause and effect, and to relationality and the in-between.

Lee Mingwei’s recent solo exhibitions include ‘Lee Mingwei: Sonic Blossom’, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2015); ‘Lee Mingwei and His Relations’, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2014); and ‘Luminous Depths’, Peranakan Museum, Singapore (2013). Selected recent group exhibitions include ‘Guess What? Hardcore Contemporary Art’s Truly a World Treasure: Selected Works from the YAGEO Foundation Collection’, National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (2015); and ‘Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art’, SITE Santa Fe (2014).

[1] Artist statement, www.leemingwei.com. [2] ibid. [3] ibid.