Helen Lee is an artist, designer, educator, and glassblower. She holds an MFA in Glass from the Rhode Island School of Design and a BSAD in Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her honors include the inaugural Irwin Borowsky Prize in Glass Art in 2013 and the Edna Wiechers Arts in Wisconsin Award in 2014. She was nominated for a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award in 2015 and a USA Fellowship in 2016. Most recently, Lee received the Gold Award in the 2016 Bullseye Emerge exhibition. Her work is in the collections of the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio, and Toyama City Insitute of Glass Art. Lee has worked as a freelance graphic designer for Chronicle Books and Celery Design Collaborative, and was an Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts from 2009-2011. She has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, California College of Art, Toyama City Institute of Glass Art, Pilchuck Glass School, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Pilchuck Glass School, the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio, and the MIT Glass Lab. She is currently an Associate Professor and Head of Glass in the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
As an artist, I examine the morphological nature of language. I am interested in how language inherently changes—over time, across cultures, and through various physical forms. I dwell in the transformational moments in which: breath becomes sound; sound becomes spoken; the spoken word is written; and the written word is shaped back into dimensional form by my own breath. I predominantly approach language through glass—a material that also embodies a constant state of flux.
My cultural background as a second-generation Chinese-American informs my practice in that it has shaped my relationship to language. The inscription of my cultural identity is a recent focal point in my work. I’ve revisited the dual experiences that have shaped my life—between the dead and living, Chinese and American, Mandarin and English, sound and silence. I have been investigating literal mistranslations, slippery interpretations, crossed wires of communication, and other unintentional consequences of bilingualism.
In addition to the gaps that open up as words move through translation between languages, my work examines language as it moves through history and as it evolves in form. I pay homage to the history of specific symbols that have changed meaning over time. I am drawn to the relationship between words and things in an age where physical typography has shifted into digital typography. In all these approaches, I conceive of glass’s ability to hold light in the same manner we ask words to hold meaning.
I see my creative studio practice as not unlike my subject matter in the sense of its evolution. The linguist John McWhorter offers this wisdom on language, which I liken to my practice: “Words never keep their meanings over time. A word is a thing on the move. A word is a process.”