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Lee Mingwei

Lee Mingwei: “We are not broken”

April 10, 2024

Mr. Lee, your participatory art installations ask your audience to perform rituals like writing letters, eating meals, and connecting with strangers. Do you also participate in your own exhibitions?

For The Letter Writing Project, where the audience is asked to write a letter to someone expressing unsaid thoughts or feelings, I usually start the exhibition by writing a letter to myself. For The Mending Project, where the audience brings in an item of clothing to be repaired by a mender, I sometimes bring something in to be repaired or embellished. For both of those projects, when the show opens, sometimes the museum or gallery staff will participate first so that the exhibition is “activated,” you know, because people will be more likely to participate if they see others have done so first. For me, it’s a really nice way of settling down, a little ritual I do for myself before each show.

It sounds like it could almost be a bit cathartic for you.

Well, the origin of The Letter Writing Project itself is actually that when my maternal grandmother passed away, I wasn’t physically there with her and I had a lot of things I wanted to tell her. After she passed, I wrote about 120 letters to her and I decided to burn them. These powerful emotions went up into the sky in smoke, to the birds for my grandma. When this project was first commissioned for the Whitney Museum, my very first show in the 1990s, I thought maybe other people would have similar emotional experiences in their lives, and I wanted to create a space for that. I continue to show these pieces in exhibitions like Rituals of Care, to hopefully keep creating those spaces for intimate experience and connection.

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Last week’s Interview
Colman Domingo

Colman Domingo: “That was enough for me”

April 3, 2024

Mr. Domingo, how do you look back on your early days as an actor?

It’s funny — I'm going to say something that I think I've never said before, but I bristled years ago when friend of mine said, “Oh, back when you were a struggling actor…” And I thought: “I was never a struggling actor! I was an actor.” It all depends on the lens you're going from. While I was bartending, while I was teaching, while I was on unemployment, while I was becoming a writer, while I was living in a rent stabilized apartment, while I was caring for my parents, while I was laying them in the ground in their passing… I was always an actor. Struggle? I've never attached myself to saying struggle. I wasn't struggling, I was having a life of an artist.

The composer Alan Menken calls it a dharmic journey, that even when he had to write jingles or play piano for ballet classes, it was all part of his journey to become an Oscar winning film composer.

There’s that different lens! I've also always had that healthy idea of what an artist's life was. Sometimes it didn't look as profitable, it looked a little like you didn't have access sometimes, but I don’t know if that's a struggle. Those things are meant to help you figure out who you are and your voice. But I've always looked at it that way. I was happy as a bartender! And at one o'clock in the morning I'd be writing a solo show for myself, and then had it produced and eventually became a very successful solo show. That’s what an artist’s life looks like. There were times when I was working on London stages and I thought that was enough for me.