Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lee Henderson, when you have not been there, your heart is full of longing (redux), Harcourt House Gallery until December 18, 2009

Investigating the arbitrary boundaries surrounding authenticity, specifically in relation to the practice of Buddhism, Lee Henderson's photo-based exhibition, when you have not been there, your heart is full of longing poses notions of permanence and impermanence for viewers to deliberate.

Raised atheist, Henderson developed an interest in Taoism in high school, then the swordsmanship of Kendo, eventually even teaching Tai Chi, but does not consider himself a practicing Buddhist.

"Being Buddhist or not comes up a lot, but I'm more interested in troubling that idea. When people ask me and I answer, 'Yes,' these works and research are permitted, but if I answer 'No,' then it's problematic," Henderson explains, who was in town for last week's opening and artist talk.

"My most honest answer is that 'I don't know.' I like what [performance artist] Laurie Anderson says, that she's a 'Committed Beginner of Buddhism.'"
Committed to researching the boundaries between thought and culture, but suspicious of dogma, Henderson has been negotiating this cultural baggage that includes a former teacher telling him flat out that he'll never understand Buddhism because he's not Asian.

"Where are those boundaries?" Henderson asks, as concepts of authenticity are challenged in an increasingly globalized world where thoughts transfer fluidly and instantaneously.

Image credit: Lee Henderson, "Transmission 11 of Budai" 2008

Having exhibited this show at the Chicago Art Fair in 2008 and again at the Art Gallery of Regina in 2009, Henderson constructs paired perspectives hinged on notions of containment and infection. In the majority of works entitled "The Impact of Hyphenation in Wasps," a single wasp (playing off the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant acronym) is surgically pinned to a Buddha figure with an acupuncture needle. Blown up to a poster size, or more specifically, an arrivals/departure screen size, these WASP prints are paired with a series of "Transmission" works, of Buddha figurines wrapped in a yellow condom, a visual and physical barrier that Henderson also describes as "protective of its insemination from spreading/protecting of the wasps." Playing off notions of acceptance or rejection, Henderson presents the wasp and the kitschy buddha figurine as two symbols engaging in shared notions.

Receiving his BFA from ACAD and his MFA from the University of Regina with a specialization in Intermedia, Henderson has been building on a body of work that fixates on the Buddha symbol as the center of his ongoing investigation in impermanence and metaphysicality. The exhibition as a whole stands visually polished, but there is something lacking as an entry point in basing its foundation on such static symbols of authenticity, despite his artistic intention to problematize such concepts.

While these works are identified somewhat as self-portraits, Henderson remains elusive as to which components in the image he relates with, as he does not identify with Buddhism, but he also does not identify with being a WASP. Being able to straddle both worlds without committing to either, there are certainly intriguing questions to be asked from an artistic point of view, but the exhibition as a whole feels swallowed in a theoretical framework that has not realized itself in praxis.

*First published in Vue Weekly

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