JIN HAN LEE — Untitled (Violinist)

Untitled (Violinist),  2021

Oil On Linen

180 x 220 cm

Untitled (Violinist), 2021 Jin Han LEE

Lee :  “When the American conceptual artist Martha Rosler visited the Slade in 2015, someone asked, in a soft voice, whether she still wanted to ‘feel’ in front of the artwork. With a smile, Rosler replied by pretending to play a violin. Everyone laughed.


I did not know what her gesture meant; I could sort of imagine what she might mean, but I wasn’t sure. So, I googled her actions when I got home that night. Mimicking playing the violin can be a form of sarcasm, indicating that someone is telling a rambling sob story or whining excessively. It is a mocking gesture.


However, this explanation didn’t quite correspond with my memory of the event. I felt some warmth between the discussants, who, it seemed, still believed in and supported the romantic idea that an artwork can make people feel emotions. Here, there was a shared set of questions and concerns. The people attending the event were all interested and invested in research related to art and what it can or cannot do. We all—including the questioner—laughed together. Here, I did not feel sarcasm but friendship.This is my understanding of what happened.


That moment stuck with me, and when I asked my friend who was also there if she remembered Martha’s gesture, she said ‘Oh yeah! She played the tiniest violin!’ Her description of ‘playing the tiniest violin’ reassures me in my impression that Rosler was being humorous rather than sarcastic, affectionate rather than dismissive. To me, the event was a manifesto of friendship, and Rosler’s gesture was a warm and humorous joke between friends brought together through art.


… Or, maybe not. Surprisingly, the worry that Martha Rosler might have actually been sarcastic did not really disappoint me. I continued to wonder what she had meant, working through the question by making a number of drawings, paintings and even a paper mask. After much manoeuvring in an attempt to get closer to understanding Rosler’s intention, I finally came to a point where I didn’t care what she really meant by this gesture. I just wanted to paint what I had heard and what I felt. I came to be certain that I in fact have a very good understanding of that moment. I painted the tiny violin on her shoulder; in my painting she is pictured playing a most beautiful, romantic melody. Through making sense of what doesn’t make sense , I painted not what I heard but what I felt. I felt liberated. “


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