I cannot go out, so I sit in the room.
The window that I access the world through is my phone screen, which also confines me.
The information I see in it, true and false, floods my world
My belief system changes fast as I try to form myself in this sea.
It spins so rapidly, though, that I feel frozen.
– Jiyoun Lee-Lodge
If ever there was an event that could kindle new interest in Edward Hopper, arguably America’s signature painter, it is the Pandemic. Hopper was the visual poet of isolation, solitude, and loneliness, and for every one of his paintings of an empty, desolate street scene or an isolated house, there is another of a solitary individual, usually a woman, sitting on a bed or by a window or separated from other people by her closed posture and inward gaze. While these qualities have long been recognized, there are others that Jiyoun Lee-Lodge has herself isolated and brought out. One is anxiety, a sense that her subject is not only alone, but feels threatened by her condition. Another is the presence in so many Hopper paintings of glass, which both reveals and separates. On one extreme it’s the wraparound windows of the diner in Hopper’s best-known work, “Nighthawks.” On the other, it’s a storefront window displaying its merchandise to an empty sidewalk. But in between, it’s every window through which we see a couple ignoring each other, or from which spills an unwelcoming light. Lee-Lodge has drawn many of these tropes and used them to frame her experience of being locked in by the danger and fear of Covid infection present on both sides of the glass.
Another addition of Lee-Lodge’s is the use of computers to supplement the windows that sever her spaces. In “Waterman — Windows,” a piece so literally titled that one could miss the pointing finger of blame — there are four windows. One is the screen of a laptop, the second is the screen of a cell phone, and the other two are apartment windows that open from opposite sides into a ventilation shaft: the 19th century’s way of defeating progressive legislation that sought to prevent housing construction from piling people into impenetrable blocks. In every print, the light that “pours” through the window or out from the digital device is converted, en route, to a tsunami of water that bursts against the occupant, replacing a part of her body with an aqueous explosion that trails off in the direction of its travel. These tornados are the liveliest part of the picture, so that just as a child is seen to pick out the eyes in a photograph first, so we find relief from the empty rooms, in which the only other source of interest is the monochrome, now purple, here yellow possessions that accompany the occupant.
There is at least one important difference between Hopper’s and Lee-Lodge’s visions. Hopper saw alienation as a spiritual condition that was endemic and probably inescapable. Without disputing him, Lee-Lodge sees the present miasma as just part of our shared plight. Careful examination will find that, even beyond her primary joke of paraphrasing other artists, she also inserts some other bits of humor. Some of the rooms she shows have art on the wall: art that also features scenes like the ones playing out in front of them. Showing her own art on the wall is a self-referential bit that suggests that, while there may be no release from Hopper’s vision of life as a prison, Lee-Lodge anticipates that one day, as unlikely as it seems now, we may look back on all this and laugh.
Jiyoun Lee-Lodge, Waterman: Changing I, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, through Oct. 23.
Geoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.