Exhibition Project
Becoming Animal, Becoming Human
Animal Perspectives
Daniel Lee

The Taiwanese artist Daniel Lee, now living in the USA, employed digital imaging technology in creating his series of manipulated photographs of human-animal hybrids. Following a portrait series of people whose facial features he melted with the physiognomy of animals from the Chinese zodiac – monkeys, rats, roosters or horses, for example – he turned to his first cinematic work, entitled “Origin,” focusing on evolution. From eleven individual pictures, he fashions a flowing movement from fish to amphibian to mammal, monkey, finally, to human. The slow transformation from sea creature to biped is carried out before an undefined, gray-blue background. The posture becomes more and more upright until out of a quadruped we see a crouching biped and finally an almost classic squat pose develop. The transformation of the monkey into a human is marked by the loss of hair and the stubbed tail.

Each transformative stage proffers the same penetrating glance focused on the observer. Because of the unchanging color scheme and the fixed facial expression, the human retains some of the fish characteristics. The kinship of all those presented cannot be ignored and clear borders between the species are blurred: The human remains an animal among animals. Because of its intense eyes, the fish modeled on the prehistoric Coelacanthus, seems uncannily human. Might this work be read as a commentary on the discussion of the disappearance of characteristic differences between human and non-human animals in an age of biotechnology?

Or could it instead be, like many of Lee’s other works, primarily inspired by traditional Chinese belief in reincarnation and therefore focused on the interconnectedness of all life – even if here in the western raiment of modern natural science? Whether the proverbial crown of creation has been attained with the preliminary end point of the hairless, well-trained man displaying Eurasian facial features remains in any case open. The human’s posture appears to be the tautness of a runner shortly before the starting gun and, in fact, the cycle immediately begins all over again, continuing in a never-ending loop.

The futuristic, transgenetic hybrid creatures in Lee’s following works stand firm against any belief that human development has reached its final stage. The choice of topic and the hyperrealistic style might also constitute an ironic sideswipe at the notion of the artist as a secundus deus who with his work, without the aid of a woman, needs only the power of his creativity to generate new life. Produced for the fin-de-siècle atmosphere at the turn of the millenium, Lee’s interpretation of the theory of evolution gains new currency in 2009, the two-hundredth anniversary of Darwin’s birth: All being is continual becoming.

Jessica Ullrich

Origin, 1999, Digital animation film

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