Daniel Lee’s latest series of computer-manipulated photographic works, “Origin,” imaginatively alludes to almost 4,600 million years in time and space—that is, the entire evolution of life on earth. It is also a new interpretation of how man views biological history in the “reproduction age” at the end of the twentieth century.”Origin” sets a new direction after Lee’s earlier “Manimalism” series of unsettling half-man, half-beast images: “108 Windows” (1997), “Fate” (1995), and “Judgement” (1994). Through these series, Lee took the prototype of an idea—Chinese zodiac signs—and deducted it into a body of work, as if expanding a character into a drama.
The images not only opened up our experience of looking at photography, but also enabled us to trace the process of Lee’s creativity. Behind the black humor of the eleven photographic works composing “Origin,” we witness the footsteps of the human race in a ruthless reflection of humankind’slowly developing primate origins that touches on biology, technology, philosophy, religion, and mythology.
Basing his vision on an artist’s logical fantasy, Lee proposes a new way of looking at the inseparable relationship between man and beast by using cutting-edge technology to recreate the origin and development of life. Meanwhile, when looking at Lee’s work, one cannot help but ponder on the ethical questions it raises and the role science has played and is playing today. Is the balance between nature and technology crumbling? What price will be paid for the unlimited practice of generic engineering? Are we trading our souls for mere survival? Is man, imagining himself a god, creating a second genesis?
Recalling Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Kimbrell’s The Human Body Shop, Lee’s “Origin” makes perfect sense as an exploration of the boundaries among man, beast, and machine. We have reached the stage of organ transplantation, non-sexual cloning, and, ultimately, life reproduction. Yet, the distinction between man and beast has not been widened in the modern times; rather, the blurring of their natures has become an ethical black hole in the man-beast hermaphrodite.
As a prophecy of the end of a century or the history of the beginning of another, Lee’s allegory reflects the core of man’s nature and meaning, thus opening up the maximum variable for the definition of man. This might be the most powerful inspiration behind “Origin.”