There’s nothing like using leaves as art supplies to get the feel of the tropics.
In Botanical Factory, Alexander Lee, the latest artist in residence at the Cosmopolitan’s P3 Studio, invites visitors to help make nature prints. The California-born, Tahiti-raised and New York-based artist provides silicone molds of breadfruit tree leaves—symbolic of his home—for use as paintbrushes of sorts. Participants dip the leaves in black housepaint (in lieu of his usual ink) and press them on polypropylene (in lieu of paper pulp), print over careful print. Lee directs the work as it takes shape, eventually forming a wreath that resembles the Tahitian hei, a garland-shaped adornment.
Likewise, a conversation gradually unfolds—not as a lecture, but as an organic outgrowth of strangers asking questions, informal storytelling and clumsy acts with art materials in an unlikely place. Lee mentions, for example, sweeping up breadfruit tree leaves as a kid. Cycles emerge through the stories, just as garlands of collaboration unfold on the paper.
Lee chose the breadfruit tree as a multilayered emblem of Polynesian sustenance, and a history of colonization and subjugation. Viewed in one light, the show evokes the paintings of Paul Gauguin, visions of sea-loving Polynesian wanderers and the blurry remains of a culture documented by missionaries who made ink prints of indigenous plants. In another light, the stark black paint is reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy, Lee’s Chinese ancestry and that nation’s role in taking a bite out of Tahitian abundance.
Participating in the piece can be monotonous. But it’s hard to walk away until the piece is suspended on a wall, with a myriad of mysterious faces, shapes and symbols peering out from inky foliage.
The Botanical Factory
P3 Studio at the Cosmopolitan, 6-11 p.m. Thu-Sun through Feb. 16.