"She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy" Artist Statements: Kacie Lees on "Neon Primer: A Handbook on Light Construction," "How to Hang Your Neon in Space," and "Ether"

Kacie Lees. Image courtesy of the artist.

Neon is a master-apprentice trade; those holding the knowledge control to whom it is passed. Our newest exhibition, She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy, tells the story of this evolution playing out in real time, as custodians of the craft become more intentional with how, and to whom, they pass their torches.

Kacie Lees (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based conceptual artist, University Instructor at NYU Steinhardt via UrbanGlass in downtown Brooklyn, and lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Lees’s radical pedagogy often materialized into forms such as thermochromatic wearables, instructional videos, and handmade tools.

Kacie Lees (American, born 1986). Neon Color Poster, 2021. Risograph print, edition of 150. 12 1/4 x 17 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

She Bends: Tell us about your works in the exhibition.

Kacie Lees: My seminal technical manual, Neon Primer: A Handbook on Light Construction (2021) assesses the psycho-historical impact of advertising on neon and illuminates the hidden nature of light via the craft of neon bending.

SB: What motivates you? What are you trying to achieve through your work?

KL: My studio work builds on overlapping optical effects with the intent to source new visual experiences.

Kacie Lees (American, born 1986). How to Hang Your Neon in Space, 2018. Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

SB: How did you begin working on this type of series or art in general?

KL: Light has always been a central figure in my practice. In school, I studied alternative photographic processes and installation art, so, for me, neon exists flawlessly in the hybrid space of those two formative media.

The video work evolved from two places. Ether (2017) comes from teaching myself to bend lettering in neon. The tests were filled with glitter and their demise recorded at slowed speeds, converting these 'wasted' items into harmonic records of performative action. How to Hang Your Neon in Space (2018) was filmed over a green screen cloth. I made this instructional video for my students at SAIC to demonstrate how to install neon anywhere - even space. The “space” background is distorted home footage of falling iridescent glitter and the audio is cut up music from the motion picture Neon Demon that was playing in the background while I shot the green screen sequences.

After years of teaching neon workshops and consistently tweaking my 15-week courses, I amassed a collection of one-sheets, illustrations, and guides to demystify the process of neon bending. The culminating collection of these resource documents, Neon Primer: A Handbook on Light Construction (2021) is a technical manual laced with light art history references and cultural stratagems to invite neon further into the art historical cannon. From Beetlejuice to the first photograph of a black hole, this book connects neon to our extraordinary, everyday lives.

In developing Neon Primer, I looked through a variety of educational lenses that highlight inventive ways of transmitting information.

  • Jacques Desbiens’ holographic work, Tractatus Holographis (2005)

  • Holography Handbook: Making Holograms the Easy Way (1982)

  • Chicago Manual of Style

  • NASA’s Style Guide

  • The Japanese “blown off roof” illustration style, Fukinuki Yatai

  • Fluxus / Conceptual Art instructional artworks

Kacie Lees (American, born 1986). Ether, 2017. Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

SB: Who has influenced you as an artist?

KL: My influences are:

  • Nikola Tesla - Serbian Electrical Engineer and Inventor: Colorado Springs Laboratory (1899-1900); Wardenclyffe Radiant Electricity Tower on Long Island (1901-17).

  • Nam June Paik - Korean American Artist: Zen for Film (1965); Good Morning, Mr. Orwell (1984)

  • Pauline Oliveros - American Composer: Deep Listening (1988)

  • Robert Barry - American Artist: Inert Gas Series (1969)

  • Laurie Anderson - American Avant-Garde Artist and Composer: everything she does…

  • Yves Klein - French Artist: The Void Exhibition (1958) Heinrich Geissler - German Glassblower and Physicist: Geissler Tubes (1857)

  • Kazimir Malevich - Russian Avant-Garde Artist: Black Square (1915)

  • Winifred Otto Schumann - German Physicist: Schumann Resonance (1952)

  • Robert Irwin - American Installation Artist: Ethereal Scrim (1971)

  • Linda Benglis - American Sculptor: Phantoms (1971)

  • Isaac Newton - English Mathematician, Astronomer, Alchemist: Prism Experiment (1665)

  • David Bohm - American-Brazilian-British scientist: Non-locality (1960)

  • Wassily Kandinsky - Russian Painter: Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911)

  • James Abbott McNeil Whistler - American Painter: Nocturne in Black and Gold (1875)

  • Stephen Hawking - English Theoretical Physicist: Blackholes (1974)

She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy
opens at Museum of Glass on February 11.