The Afterlife of Mourning
Daniel Lie
Villa 102, Frankfurt
by Victor Zaiden

Daniel Lie, Video still of Daniel Lie in conversation with Nuno de Brito Rocha, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 2021, exhibition view "Scales of Decay", Villa 102 © KfW Stiftung, Photography: Jens Gerber 

Decay indicates an event in motion, undergoing a process that will bring something into a different condition from what it was before it started waning. In nature, the decay of a body means its reabsorption into other organic structures pushing the life cycle forward. An investigation of the distinct symbolic degrees of this lingering development is proposed in Daniel Lie’s solo show ‘Scales of Decay,’ curated by Daniela Leykam for the KfW-Stiftung’s cultural space Villa 102 in Frankfurt. The selection of seven large-scale drawings plus a video interview distributed along the historical building’s imposing ground floor proposes re-entangling part of the works Lie produced and exhibited at Berlin’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien in 2021, where the artist spent a year in residency (funded by the foundation mentioned above). 

The group of works on paper Lie produced marks the first occasion the artist delved into drawing as a medium to explore their practice. Nevertheless, the ensemble rejects any suspicion of callowness in that field. The frequently gestural overlay of watercolour, pastels, and oil sticks, digs into the possibilities of forming vivacious contrasts revealing a solid knowledge of colour. Familiarity with drawing is also perceived through the vigorous charcoal and ink edges Lie’s figurative elements carry and in phrasal incursions fleetingly graspable between colour surfaces. On that matter, Lie received training in comics production at school, and their grandparents ran comics publications in Indonesia before migrating to Brazil, the country the artist was born in. The hybridization of distinct drawing materials in each composition on display is indicative of a vocation to experiment with the emergence of new forms.

Daniel Lie, Dife and Leath, 2021, exhibition view "Scales of Decay", Villa 102 © KfW Stiftung, Photography: Jens Gerber

The show’s sense of novelty is built precisely out of its media specificity, considering the artist’s production trajectory. Lie’s artistic endeavour concentrates on debunking binary dualisms as life and death or masculine and feminine through an alignment with organic elements. In general, the artist develops their questionings through expansive installations that bring natural processes like decomposition and sprouting to the exhibition space, constituting what they call “living entities.” The subject matter’s physical state is set in permanent transmutation according to the passage of time and submitted to the influence of environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity. Lie’s notion of working in partnership with “other-than-human” elements in the likes of fungi, bacteria, plants, and spiritual beings, presupposes a rather relational than instrumentalist attitude to the ensemble of raw material in interaction. This open-ended approach exempts the artist from determining a work’s formal behaviour overall, thus understanding each proposal as a morphing organism configuring a new ecosystem. 

Daniel Lie, Micro/Macro, 2020, exhibition view "Scales of Decay", Villa 102 © KfW Stiftung, Photography: Jens Gerber

A tension emerges out of Lie’s focus on largescale drawings at the Villa 102 exhibition and their previous exploration of the morphing installation format: How does a practice so much interested in the interaction of elements through time and space can convey ideas of transfiguration through static drawings on paper? In other words, how to take forward a practice that requires the freedom to mutate when deploying instruments made for fixing manual activity on a bidimensional surface? 

Examining Lie’s creative process at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in dialogue with some works at Villa 102 is elucidative of how notions of decay unfold through the show. Affected by the sanitary restrictions imposed by the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, individuals were confronted with a kind of loneliness accompanied, foremostly, by uncertainty regarding the future. Facing practical limitations to exercise their usual practice, Lie found in drawing an alternative to continue the relation with elements prefiguring their installations. As if converting a still life into an object of scrutiny, the artist kept a plate with fruits, vegetables, and flowers perishing for nine months and observed the transformation in course thanks to the action of fungi, bacteria, and insects, re-signifying what was primarily there for human consumption or contemplation. 

Daniel Lie, Rombo, 2021, exhibition view "Scales of Decay", Villa 102 © KfW Stiftung, Photography: Jens Gerber

A close look at this temporal behaviour is perceived in the work Dife and Leath (2021), in which fruit- and flower-like elements and leaf branches float over a yellowish surface interspersed with curvilinear shapes reminiscent of a vegetal circuit. The 300 x 350 cm drawing, positioned right at the exhibition’s entrance, offers visitors a chance to meditate on the effects of time on all organic matter—including oneself. The pun forged by the work’s title exchanging the initials of life and death targets at complicating this notion beyond their significance in the human time, meaning a continuity through decay. A similar perception of flow ruled by nature is seen in Micro/Macro, 2020, a titillating composition of marine-like forms abundant in colours vibrating with gestural charcoal outlines suggesting a tempestuous liquid environment.  

Daniel Lie, Matriarch‘s Enigma, 2021, exhibition view "Scales of Decay", Villa 102 © KfW Stiftung, Photography: Jens Gerber

A few of the works indicate a second relational possibility with the decay process––one grounded on loss and mourning. In Rombo (2021), a word in Portuguese meaning an unfair dispossession, but also a hollow, Lie annotates on the work’s upper-right the memory of grandmother Lindi chanting “Happy Birthday to You.” In rectangular format and positioned in a semi-circular space, Matriarch’s Enigma (2021) engenders a sense of metaphysical presence out of vertical lines of running ink over yellow circles and hand gestures scratching the paper downwards. A similar sense of metaphysical solemnity is perceived in the interaction the work After the Arrival of the Prophecy (2021) establishes with the room’s inner architecture and lighting. The power conveyed by the image of Rangda, an entity connected to death in the Balinese cosmology, dominating the drawing and staring the viewer straight forward is enhanced by the work’s solitary installation in a relatively dark space with an exquisite chandelier.

Daniel Lie, After the arrival of the prophecy, 2021, exhibition view "Scales of Decay", Villa 102 © KfW Stiftung, Photography: Jens Gerber

During their residency period in Berlin, Lie lost their grandmother and father in Brazil to Covid-19. The experiences of loss during a period of reclusion and limited access to resources position the drawing series beyond purely attempting to navigate other media. Scales of Decay represent a renewed approach Lie developed to their practice, in which transfiguration foreruns the steady imagens. Loss is processed through a creative reconnection to one’s affective memory. The seclusion triggered by mourning is a process required for resilience.

Scales of Decay

Daniel Lie

10/05/ — 19/06/2022  

Villa 102

Bockenheimer Landstraße 102,

60323, Frankfurt am Main.