Internet confuses Austin Lee

Photography by Marina Testino. All images courtesy of Austin Lee.

Austin Lee was born the same year the internet as we know it was invented. In the years since 1983, both have become forces of innovation: Lee as an artist whose work occupies an uncanny valley between the physical and the virtual, and the Internet as an inextricable and confusing element of human life. Kids these days can’t imagine a world without it; Lee’s work reflects this new paradigm. Double render, her solo exhibition at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery, runs through April 9 and highlights the artist’s parallel practices in computer imaging and airbrushing IRL. At the end of this month, he will take part in The New, New, the collective exhibition that will inaugurate the Seoul office of Peres Projects, alongside artists such as Emily Ludwig Shaffer and George Rouy. He took a moment to chat LEARNED on studio playlists, make friends on the internet, and opt out of ads.

CULTURED: What was your first mobile phone?

Austin Lee: The first memorable one was the Audiovox SMT 5600. It was one of the first smartphones and I could connect to wireless headphones and listen to music with it. I loved that phone.

CULTURED: Do you remember your first Instagram post?


Lee: This is one of the first. At first I used Instagram more like a photo site like Flickr, so I have a lot of bad photos like the first ones. Now I’ve made most of them private.


This is the most recent that I have public.

CULTURED: The best playlist for airbrushing?

Lee: It depends on what I’m painting. I love music and always try to find new things to listen to. This is a recent playlist with some songs I’ve been listening to.

CULTURED: What is the emotion you associate with the Internet?

Lee: Oh, that’s a tough question. I guess confusion would be my choice. There’s a range of emotions you feel online, but they’re always so disjointed that I think they usually feel confusing. ‍

READ: Valid. What’s the craziest DM you’ve ever sent?

Lee: Not a DM, but this email…

CULTURED: Did you ever answer?

Lee: Yes, she did, and she’s the best and she wasn’t even shocked by it.

CULTURED: YouTube video you watched the most?

Lee: Probably some Blender tutorial. I have to review them over and over again to figure out how to do things. Like how to make tears or something. It’s funny because it’s usually the teenagers who explain how to do everything, and I’m struggling lol. Or it could be the music videos I made with Okay Kaya. I often play them on YouTube to show people!

CULTURED: What do you prefer about virtual reality?

Lee: I can make sculptures without worrying about gravity. No armor needed. Just ideas. He’s just drawing in space. A way to share what I’m thinking with someone else. A very quick way to get things out of my head and into someone else’s head.

CULTURED: What do you think of emojis?

Lee: I love emojis.

READ: Favorites?


CULTURED: What about ad blocking?

Lee: I think it’s good to be aware of how you are being affected and try to control it in some way. Advertising obviously works and we find it in so much of our lives that it is necessary to opt out whenever possible as one no longer chooses to join.


Lee: Bad!

READ: FaceTime?

Lee: I like!

CULTURED: Any internet predictions for the next few years?

Lee: I feel like we’re going to start having more organic tools that make it more conversational with computers. Like how AI is starting to be integrated into many websites and software. It will probably make many of the annoying things about using a computer easier to do, but it will also introduce new problems. You will be able to ask your computer to perform complex tasks and it will understand with language. Basically, Siri-types and Google Glass will start working as originally promised and integrate into our lives like the iPhone has merged with us. Your car screen will overlay driving directions and you will get information about people with glasses as you walk down the street. Everything will become less avoidable and more integrated into our lived experience. Basically as it is now, but more extreme.

CULTURED: The best thing about the Internet?

Lee: Make friends.

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