Split Open (2013)

split open (2013)

On the occasion of 'Split Open' a solo show at the North Dakota Museum of Art.

I left North Dakota over twenty years ago, but my sensibilities—reserved, practical, spare and physical—have been defined by the window of adolescence here. I remember the relentless horizon connecting sky to the ground; I remember the austerity of the weather; I remember a blanket of silence and a sense of endless time.  

What is the space between the person that left and the person that returns? The conceptual framework for this exhibition is the action of splitting, the continual cleaving from past to present. North Dakota has been thrust in the national spotlight for its oil extraction and imperviousness to the recent economic downturn. Splitting the shale means thousands of people leaving their homes to reinvent themselves. Roads crack under the weight of non-stop traffic. Environmentalists and oil companies are divided on the stakes. Profits burst. Small towns crack. I wondered how longtime residents and new transplants defined their sense of place and identity. Split something open, and it must transform.

A new body of work has been created for this exhibition. Real-time video portraits reveal the inner tableau of individuals working in the oil fields or in the towns. Capturing the rhythms of transformation and the splitting of time and landscape is a two channel, large screen projection. A short video imagines the independent life of a drilling rig. And a series of sculptural forms compress memories into core samples of a life, including my father's, of which North Dakota comprises thirty-three years. In conjunction with this work are established installation and sculptural projection works from the last five years.

I have experienced in this return, a cracking of my own myths and narratives that have been left undisturbed for twenty years. I have come home as a witness to the things that have changed.

                            Susie J. Lee
                            April 2013

boom… (2013)
Two channel video projection, 38 min

There is both urgency and a geological indifference felt over the ten days in the northwest corner of North Dakota: over the Badlands-- miles on Highway 2 and 1084, inside a drilling rig, time in man camps, flares, mud, and overrun towns. 

Happiness Writes White (2013)

Video Portraits 
60 x 45 x 4 in

These are twelve video portraits from the oil boomtowns in western North Dakota—a slice of the dense network of people brought together by redemption, opportunity, and a pioneering chaos.  Drill riggers, derricks, roughnecks, bartenders, blackjack dealers, truckers, carpenters, welders, First nation tribes, and ranchers with mineral rights all reflected in this moment of history in the non-stop Bakken formation.

Giantess (2013)

Susie J. Lee and Rodrigo Valenzuela
7:20 single channel video

Infusing animus to an isolated drilling rig at the edge of the Badlands, the catalysts of infrastructure and economy breathe life into the machinery.


Metal oxides, clay, minerals, steel, mixed media
These are core samples of lives in North Dakota. The accretion of materials, cracks, and embedded objects represent phases in which the depth is measured as perceived passage of time. An oil man, a truck driver, a student, a professor, and an businessman remember moments of both failure and re-invention, loss and acquisitions.