Yona Lee: In Transit

Yona Lee’s In Transit is a sprawling, maze-like installation of cut and welded stainless-steel tubes that bisect and transform gallery space and the activities that take place there. She turns handrails, barriers, and fences into tools of liberation and imaginative escape, rather than forms of order and control. Incorporating a miscellany of surprising urban and domestic fixtures, Lee’s pipe structures are infused with an everyday surrealism. Her work always seeks to transport us somewhere else, to move us between spaces, experiences and states of being.

This is the fifth instalment in Lee’s In Transit series. Each project responds to the particular social and spatial dynamics of a gallery—making it the container, the site, and the subject of the work. For City Gallery, Lee removes the false walls to let the outside world flood in, then builds her own open-form, open access structure around the gallery’s central columns. Then, in a parody of ‘form follows function’, her sculpture traces the movement of utility pipes and tubes through and between the downstairs spaces. Lee draws attention to the functional dimensions and logics of gallery architecture normally rendered invisible by the art and the expansive white walls. She even brings new (and, arguably, absent) functionality to the space, adding lights, seats, tables, a bunk bed, and a phone-charging station.

Lee is a classical cellist and also conceives of her work in musical terms. She responds to the space in an improvisational manner—as a performer activates an instrument. This installation is staged as a sonata with three interconnected structures spread across two downstairs galleries and the corridor that links them to the Auditorium. It can be read in many other ways: as structure or system, as minimalist or maximalist, as serious or funny, as aggressive or playful, as authoritarian or utopian, as utilitarian or pointless, as site-specific or self-contained, as light touch or heavy duty.

City Gallery Wellington, 8 December 2018–24 March 2019