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September 27, 2013 / Melissa Yuan-Innes

My Year of Yes: We Are Light Rays

Not one of Sook-Yin's pictures, since hers are copyrighted. This one is by Alvimann.

Not one of Sook-Yin’s pictures, since hers are copyrighted. This one is by Alvimann.

I pushed myself to go to We Are Light Rays at the Ottawa Art Gallery last week. My body desperately wanted sleep, my throat ached, I had chills, and my nose dripped, but I wanted to meet Sook-Yin Lee. So I forced myself to drive to Ottawa, through the construction, and listened to SYL.

What I love is how she can draw a story with a few details, and she’s completely open. About her childhood: “I had to come home from school right away. I had to have high marks. I was on the swimming team. All I could do was watch TV.” “My mother is like Kali. Don’t mess with her. She will destroy you.” “I never finished high school. I left home when I was 15 and joined the art scene in Vancouver.”

About other people categorizing you: “I was a VJ, so everyone put me in this box. ‘You’re a VJ.’ And some of my friends were like, ‘Why are you working for the man?’ and I said, ‘It’s just a new medium that can reach so many people.’” It hadn’t occurred to me that TV was what the Internet is now, a new medium to reach millions of people. TV was just TV to me. So I thought that was super cool.

She’d also made a lot of interesting artistic choices, like displaying her photographs on small light boxes instead of blowing them up huge like everyone else does, although she said she’d like to experiment with large photos printed on linen. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to use light boxes, but she works in film, so it’s more natural to her. And linen? Wow.

If you go see the exhibit, it’s an auditory as well as visual experience because she’s singing original music in the background. I was in a hurry because my parking metre had expired and I needed to sleep, but I still liked it, and the gallery person said that it’s cool to rotate 360 degrees and take in all the photos and the music.

I liked that SYL works in all sorts of media (radio–she’s the host of CBC radio’s DNTO; music; film) and tries different things. People already think I’m strange enough for writing in all different genres. And I asked her what she did when people told her “You can’t do that. Stick to one thing” or criticize her for succeeding, which happens to me.

SYL basically said that she doesn’t listen to naysayers. Sometimes she has doubts, but she creates the stuff first and then says, “Uh oh. What did I do?” afterward.

I missed her show the next day, How Can I Forget. I would have liked to see the interplay between her and her siblings (SYL said that the emotional highlight is a Skype call between her and her oldest sister, a successful businesswoman who refuses to dwell on sadness in their past, whereas SYL is the crazy artist who does nothing but dwell on “crap”). Unfortunately, I was still sick and a bit tired from my two Kali yoga classes, which will be the next post. But if you have a chance, go see Sook-Yin Lee. Go support living artists.

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