Serena Lee

The Taste of The Name, 2015

VR experience for Oculus Rift

"The object is to name each of the three hundred and thirty shades of blue in every possible language, in order to ascertain the extent to which names for colour are universal.  The task should take about forty minutes. It should be performed on a sunny day, if possible in the shade, not in direct sunlight." Borrowing from anthropological research, The Taste of The Name is a fantastical study in universality in language and perception. Stemming from the culturally evasive notion of ‘umami’, the piece considers what is perceivable, knowable, and namable and how these intersect. Traversing hermetic worlds of found images of Las Vegas and underwater hotels, the word and image of 'blue' is repeated to abstraction. Viewers access the fabled Nautilus through quotes from Jules Verne's proto-science fiction novel, but only with a comprehension of French. They resurface in another impossible world of virtual reality and virtual skin tanning, a cyclic and slippery navigation of language. 


Running Time: 10:09



Technical Production and VR environment: John G. Hampton 

Voice: Bodil Jensen

Text excerpted from:

World Colour Survey by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay, Department of Anthropology, University of California, 1969


Vingt milles lieues sous les mers by Jules Verne, 1870




animation, anthropology, artifice, collage, colour, culture, dialect, experiment, heterotopia, humanity, language, literature, nature, perception, research, umami, universality, virtual reality




Layering forms and media, Serena Lee maps power, perception, and belonging through models of polyphony. An artist from Toronto, Serena practises and presents close to home and internationally, recently with Academy of Fine Arts Vienna at the Research Pavilion, Venice; the Images Festival, Toronto; Mountain Standard Time, Calgary; and Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna. Since 2010, Serena has collaborated as member of Read-in (NL/DE/ID/ CA) on performative, textual, and discursive projects, shifting modes and disciplines. Serena holds an MFA from the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam; and an Associate Diploma in Piano Performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada.


Artist Statement

Situating my practice in the playing of polyphony, I transpose musical forms to social relations, structures of power, perception, belonging, language, desire, and what it means to listen. I start with playing a fugue on the piano as a blueprint: a contrapuntal mess of voices spilling out horizontally rather than stacked as a hierarchy. Playing a fugue is simultaneously reading, interpreting, sensing, analysing, moving, listening, and responding to the conditions of a place and moment.

And an acknowledgement of the technological and socio-political tides enabling this particular set of voices to be heard; an awareness of the double-bind of cultural imperialism; playing while wrestling with a spectrum of voices and silences; what it means to have a piano. These conditions form the framework for my practice: a reading of the experience of multiplicity from the position of listener-producer with mutable subjectivities. Polyphonic playing involves accord: language is agreed upon - what is this agreeing upon in relation to desire, to power, to practice? Where is the agency of the listener-producer in this accord - not a one-time deal, but iteratively practised - and how this is experienced by a single body, scalable to social relations, and transmissible through published forms? My work takes form as entry points, as scores to be interpreted. I trace this playing through expanded cinema, performance, sound, text, mutable objects, conversation, choreography, applying polyphony as metaphor and form. My approach is alleatoric, responsive - not-knowing - like cooking with leftovers. It’s an un-mastery of music, language for the sake of connections that spill.


The artist is represented by

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