The Botanical Factory, through February 16, Thursday-Sunday, 6-11 p.m. Cosmopolitan’s P3Studio, 698-7000.
Alexander Lee’s The Botanical Factory at P3Studio is a pretty show. How could it not be?
For his P3Studio residency at the Cosmopolitan, Lee makes prints in live-time from breadfruit leaves on 50-by-60-inch polypropylene sheets … sorta. Due to agricultural regulations, getting real breadfruit leaves out of Lee’s homeland, Polynesia, is a pain. Plus the leaves petrify into kindling quickly after cutting. So Lee substitutes floppy silicone “leaves” made from molds of the real thing, overprinting the leaves in circles.
Visitors to Lee’s studio can lend a hand in The Botanical Factory by dipping a “leaf” into black paint and smooching it onto the velvety white ground. (During the Cosmopolitan’s Year of the Horse celebrations, the prints featured shiny gold leaves on a Chinese red ground.) Lee’s “Factory” alludes to Andy Warhol’s Factory, where Warhol’s assistants made works that Warhol signed, guaranteeing their value. Lee and his crew, too, produce several prints a night and rotate them on the studio walls.
Why breadfruit leaves? Think Mutiny on the Bounty. When the breadfruit the Bounty was transporting ended up in the Pacific Ocean, men who tossed the plants were caught and hanged. Roasted and mushed breadfruit sustained slaves in the 19th century; today it’s a superfood, poised to help end world hunger. Lee recalls sweeping up breadfruit leaves as a child in Tahiti, where harsh colonial narratives coexist alongside breadfruit myths, legends and fashion. Islanders traditionally wear breadfruit wreathes on their heads, much the way Romans wore wreaths made of laurel.
The beauty of Lee’s breadfruit prints, arrayed as circles, is undeniable. Organic forms and symmetries ensure that almost any leaf prints arrayed in a circle yield a pleasant effect. But the works in their current form lack gravitas. As Lee goes on to process the prints—plans are in the works to add color, photograph, polarize and manipulate the negatives—the breadfruit will likely move from pretty, calligraphic works into more resonant terrain.