Sook Yin Lee is probably best known for her work as a CBC broadcaster (DNTO, Sleepover), and as the offbeat VJ on MuchMusic during the 90s. She’s also a prolific filmmaker, actor, musician, artist, and dance-maker.
Lee is, in effect, one of the country’s best known, and longest-serving, avant-garde artists in residence. She comes to town this month wearing her dance-maker and musician hats, for the Festival of New Dance. On October 5th, she’ll present Sphere of Banished Suffering, an experimental dance narrative featuring three dancers embodying one woman at different times in her life.
The narrative, which Lee both created and directed, explores the character’s evolving physical and psychological transformation, and the broader struggles of girlhood, young adulthood, and womanhood. On Saturday night (Oct. 7th), she’ll close out the festival at The Ship with her minimalist experimental band JOOJ.
Regardless of her chosen medium, candid self-expression (however ugly or gorgeous or banal), has always been central to Lee’s work. She took time to talk with me about what motivates her creative projects, how she approaches them, and the importance of vulnerability in art.
From Bob’s Your Uncle to DNTO, Shortbus, and Sleepover, there’s an unflinching openness in your work. What fuels this for you; has this changed over the years as you’ve gained insight into yourself and others, and is Sphere of Banished Suffering a culmination of this?
Each of us has a unique life experience. I had an early volatile family life with many secrets we did not discuss. Avoiding them led to sickness. Through attempting to unpack those kinds of upheavals, I learned to let them be and I apply that mindset to the practice of art-making. As a maker of things, I try to engage conversation with my collaborators, with the audience, with myself in the work. Honest engagement and curiosity is key in activating this … The process and parameters change with each undertaking, so I feel I’m on a progression. What fuels this drive is an insatiable curiosity about people and life, which is infinitely complex and interesting! I’m constantly learning. In this sense, Sphere of Banished Suffering is less a culmination than an extension of inquiry, which is ongoing.
As your earliest artform, how has music grounded you throughout your life? Does it serve a different creative purpose for you, or operate on the same continuum as your other projects?
In the most visceral way, singing comes out of my guts and my body. I’m lucky to be able to open my mouth and make noise! It can be a guttural, pure expression. When I sing and I’m present, I feel connected. When I sing and I’m not present I’m disjointed. That feeling I get when I’m present in the moment, works as a barometer when I am working in other mediums. I recognize when it feels right and apply this to when I’m acting, editing, conducting an interview, etc., and that comes directly from my experiences as a singer.
To what extent does creativity demand vulnerability?
Creativity requires candid and visceral expression, that taps into your unconscious, that you would not normally express outwardly. It requires bravery, honesty, acceptance, and the ability to be present, but also to move on. These elements have to do with vulnerability, which is a very complicated state of being.
Given your openness with yourself and others, what kinds of things make you uncomfortable?
There are so many things that make me feel uncomfortable, which is the paradox of a person who appears comfortable with discomfort. I can be very awkward and shy socially. I love to hang out alone, with one friend or two maximum. Crowds scare me. I’m uncomfortable hosting events, and I avoid participating in art judging juries—It’s endless! Likely my own insecurities around failure and fraudulence are what make me most uncomfortable!
Catch Sook Yin Lee’s Sphere of Banished Suffering at LSPU Thursday October 5th, 8pm (tickets $20), and JOOJ at The Ship Saturday October 7th,10pm (tickets $10)