A lacy fabric stretched over an oval embroidery frame would seem to be a fitting description of Bovey Lee’s Rake. That, however, is only an initial assessment. The simple medium of a single sheet of Chinese xuan paper delicately cut to reveal shadows and shapes encourages a slower eye and arouses curiosity.
The work quietly reveals itself.
The paper is cut so that patterns of leaves are spread asymmetrically like a twisting mesh through which automobiles of various sizes can be glimpsed. Vehicles emitting a suite of pollutants take up every available space on the roads.
The shape of the paper has an ominous symbolism. It is the same as an egg, a cracking egg, about to hatch. We might wonder, what happens when the egg cracks and the automobile emissions are released? What will be the effect on public health and ecological integrity?
The seeming simplicity of the work dissolves the longer you look at it. Closer attention shows that the busy urban world—the cars on the road—seems to be protected by the plants high above it. Then again, the foliage looks a little like gift wrap—where the cars are the gifts.
What does the title Rake mean? Does Lee refer to Rake as the action of gathering leaves, to the lines in the soil from using a rake repeated in the lines on the highway? Or does it mean to search for something the way police might rake through a crime scene for clues, or how one might rake through a messy desk to find a pencil?
The mounting of the paper above grey silk further invites participation and engagement with the artwork by way of the imagination. Herein lies an affective ambiguity. Lee showcases a play of light that creates a flattering and beautiful contrast between black and white, light and shadow, giving the paper a sculptural feel. The shadows arouse a desire to explore what might not be easily understood. The shadows leave room for the emergence of a boundless and formless presence. With the play of light and shadow, one can infer that this work perhaps hinges on the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang, which means a dark side and a bright side. In Rake, both sides—the light and shadow—depend on each other to create a balance.
Rake compels me to infer answers to my questions from the object itself—to think about cut paper as an expression of how much humans have cut out of our environment. Yet Rake’s power rests on the tension of the medium’s fragility with its tensile interconnectivity—the fragile material of the cut paper portrays connected elements, people and place, nature and people.