Dialog in Common

Lee Walton: Art, Audience & Lived Realities

Lee Walton [LW] is an Experimentalist and artist working with a wide range of genres based in New York.
pressInterview with Markuz Wernli Saitô on October 31, 2005.


Live/Theater blurs the line between urban reality and framed reality

What are you up to these days?
LW: For the storefront gallery Art In General in Manhattan I am currently doing the Experiential Project. With a series I call Life/Theater I have other people do the performance and I find myself more in the role of a coach. Some of the people I work with are real actors who do film or theater work. For example an actress would dressed in business attire shows up at a specified time and place downtown carrying an ironing board and adjusting her heels. On December 15 at 3 pm sharp a man will enter a square, admire the statue, check his watch and rush off realizing that he's late for an appointment.

What is your motivation?
LW: For Life/Theater I print postcards which announce each event. The defined time in existing locations creates anticipation, sometimes even a hype. Before planning my events I usually get a photograph and a good idea of the place. Then I imagine what could happen within that space. No matter how much I'm trying there is always the element of the unanticipated in the outcome.

In my earlier work I would get in a situation, change something and get out of it. Today I set up a situation where people are prompted to interact or not. I believe that a human being cannot make an irrational decision. What appears to outsiders as an irrational act comes from forces deep inside of us which make us do things in certain ways

What is your relationship to audience and environment?
LW: In The Experimental Project at Art In General I have people sit in the storefront gallery looking out the street. Out front actors enact everyday scenes but repeat the actions over certain intervals. If you can turn the switch as if reality were theater, it is more than entertaining. Through repetition ordinary acts take on whole new meanings. This heightened affinity suddenly turns the huge space of the whole city into focus, maybe just because another person is lighting a cigarette. From that moment an artist becomes part of the audience because I can't predict what's going to happen next.

In 2004 I did the Dribble Project. Each morning for the duration of two months I would dribble a basketball back and forth the same street in mid-town New York. I was wondering what would happen with this little out of the ordinary over a certain period of time. I realized that after 90 days I had become a part of the urban inventory. Only one day I missed to do my dribbling and afterwards people asked me where I had been. The audience — mostly shop owners — had made up its own individual reasoning for my daily appearance. The project wasn't labeled as "art" and therefore remained accessible to everybody. The word art somehow implies "not real". In contrast my projects try to put up the ordinary in life for reconsideration and create openings for the unreal in the public.

What brought you into working in and with the public domain?
LW: While attending grad school in San Francisco I spent two years in the studio but kept looking out the window. San Francisco is a great place to work outside and I just wanted to walk the streets, look at things and take in urban systems. I started doing projects which brought me out there. Galleries never really lured me. You can't get a more authentic experience than the real stuff from life. I hope that I can inspire others with my curiosity and observation and get people to start seeing things differently. The more ones get involved in life the more amazing it is. Another aspect is to connect people. It is fascinating to seep into people's lives and infuse the element of surprise. At one point in Life/Theater the actress with the ironing board was asked out for a date by a passerby.

What do you think about documentation?
I think that the picture is the end of our imagination. If you videotape your project it ultimatively becomes a video clip and is subjected to it. I like the idea that my performances take on their own course and can be carried through stories and anecdotes of of its witnesses. The narrative aspect is great.

Lee Walton is often referred to as an Experientialist which work takes many forms — from drawings on paper, over game/system based structures, to video, web-based performances, public projects, theatrical orchestrations and more. Walton's video mediated performances frequently present the artist interacting with the urban environment. We see Walton scrambling over small structures, responding with simple gestures to objects on the street, or caressing a multitude of urban surfaces. His practice connects with both the literary representations of flanerie and the tradition of artistic practice of positing the artist as flaneur. Walton's use of the video camera complicates this connection to flanerie, influencing response mechanisms in witnesses of both his live actions and the video representations of them, as well as complicating Walton's relationship to his acts.

externalLee Walton's online portfolio