149 Canal Avenue
September 17 via October 15, 2022
Ken Lum: Loss of life and Furnishings
Artwork Gallery of Ontario
June 25, 2022 via January 2, 2023
October 27 via 30, 2022
By STEPHEN WOZNIAK, September 2022
“Studying to reside must imply studying to die – to acknowledge, to simply accept an absolute mortality.”
“I communicate just one language, and it’s not my very own.”
“We’re all mediators, translators.”
“Peace is barely doable when one of many warring sides takes step one, the hazardous initiative, the chance of opening up dialogue, and decides to make the gesture that may lead not solely to an armistice, however to peace.”
– Jacques Derrida
One too many Derrida quotes? Maybe, however postmodern French thinker Jacques Derrida’s affect on artist Ken Lum is unmistakable. And these blunt passages make plain what Lum’s artwork typically reveals his audiences. It’s all – or a minimum of typically – concerning the crucial deconstruction and phenomenology. When you see the work, you’ll know what I imply. You possibly can, if you happen to step into the three new Ken Lum exhibitions now on view.
Lum’s new solo artwork exhibition at Magenta Plains gallery in New York Metropolis presents 9 current works that handle perennial, present-tense considerations of the artist — from racist, pop cultural identification to the despair of unemployment and to our eventual dying, after all. Not like some work of different notable conceptual and minimal artists over the a long time that current austere, unitary, patterned textual content and objects that take a look at viewer consideration about area, time and sense notion, Lum’s work helps us moreover concentrate on our cultural, social and private perceptions, which is a dire want in mild of not too long ago renewed worldwide unrest.
I interviewed Lum in Could for his Remai Fashionable Museum Loss of life and Furnishings solo retrospective in Canada (Ken Lum Interview Podcast) and talked with him once more in late August concerning the intersection between life and the artifacts we create to mark our path, stake our declare and primarily brace ourselves for this indirect world.
Clearly, Lum desires us to concentrate: to look, to overview our gaze and test ourselves. The massive-scale, mirrored works included in his new exhibition carry out simply this process with some assist from the viewer. “Anna Could Wong,” that includes a nonetheless picture of the often-stereotyped, eponymous silent movie actress, depicts her squarely dealing with us, although trying simply off to the aspect to avert our stare. Once we see ourselves on this very mirror, we’re reminded of our regard for, and contribution to, her identification and our acceptance of a film character, however denial of the particular one who performed her. Just like the well-known feminist Carol Hanisch’s rallying slogan, “The Private is the Political,” this and different works right here begin with seemingly smaller, single-character private (re)views that time to bigger issues of systemic racism, widespread financial failure, endemic warfare and the preponderance of institutional energy.
In one other mirror piece, “Little Large Horn,” which alludes to the triumphant 19th century Sioux and Cheyenne battle towards Colonel Custer’s military, a remarkably peaceable, grass-covered plain peppered with a number of ramshackle houses within the distance is proven. With our reflection within the sky above the sector picture, we would ask “what occurred, when and what’s left,” however definitely not with out reviewing our complicity or understanding of the occasions and area during which it unfolded.
Whereas Lum acknowledges that the medium sends the message, he’s additionally within the area his particular person artwork objects occupy.
“I’m at all times occupied with a number of areas, how artworks are sited and the way they’re anticipated to carry out, which is considerably completely different, in accordance with completely different areas. The three I’m occupied with are: the non-public area of a person, which may very well be a non-public artwork collector; the areas of museums, that are non-public areas, although they perform as semi-public areas; and public areas,” Lum defined. “Museums appear non-public and infrequently look denatured; they don’t have sociality, in a way. Simply clear white partitions. They’ve been scrubbed of any interference.”
I requested if he wished to alter that conference – since his artwork frequently displays in museums and huge business galleries – and does he take into consideration his work as discrete objects or grouped installations.
“I like hovering someplace in between. I like discrete objects within the sense that I feel the autonomy of a murals – an outdated modernist time period – is essential as a result of that offers it a fringe of the meant which means. On the identical time, that containment acts within the service of its relationship to the social world past the gallery,” Lum instructed me.
He’s not within the closure or the gap between what’s classed as non-art and artwork. He genuinely likes the excellence of every class, but additionally the momentary confusion viewers expertise relating to the identification of what they see on a wall. As long as there isn’t any default “that is artwork” class that registers with audiences, he’s blissful. “I hope what I current is extra attention-grabbing,” Lum stated.
Two different works within the present, the large-scale text-and-photo “They Have No Thought How A lot I Work” and “I Misplaced My Job,” unequivocally ask us to concentrate to the human topics featured and their naked inside revelations that occupy equal area on the image airplane. Each the African American mom and elder European American man within the items are depicted in nice outside public park settings, every with a baby and canine, respectively. This helps us to acknowledge them as complete people who can and will deserve a break from the onerous knocks of life, however who’re additionally depended upon by others they take care of and love, placing them in a quandary. In some circles, due to the early genesis of those works within the Eighties earlier than the Web, Lum is thought affectionately because the “Godfather of Memes,” one thing he concedes as we speak. Whereas wealthy and sophisticated, his work can be as direct as a poignant, witty scroll cease on Instagram.
Lum’s Necrology sequence, works of which I had seen at Royal Initiatives in Los Angeles, and now exhibiting within the Artwork Gallery of Ontario retrospective, form of act as epitaphs or spotlight obituaries for primarily tireless workaday world laborers. With Lum, who writes all the unique textual content, we get extra. Within the piece “Life as a Keypunch Operator,” there’s point out of important household love, but additionally preparation of the topic for entry right into a thankless lifetime employment position. It’s humorous that these items characteristic quite a few, and wildly completely different, font types, which remind me of Outdated West outlaw wished posters. It’s as if these humble servants have been elevated to a fleeting, fascinating, however problematic “wished” place preserved in an outsized recorded paper abstract.
Lum, it seems, was initially struck by a current trustworthy replica of an April 15, 1865 President Lincoln assassination newspaper cowl story that includes Lincoln’s life highlights, during which every seem as their very own competing “mini- headline” written in “florid language.” To Lum, it piqued his curiosity within the flux between “pictorialism and textuality,” but additionally the substitute of image for textual content that he hopes will assist reinvigorate how we actively see and picture, since our brains are virtually repeatedly overloaded with digital imagery that we don’t generate every day.
Lum and I talked ceaselessly about artwork, his work in Monument Lab, household and summer time holidays, his unbelievable New York gallery, his day job as a professor at College of Pennsylvania – and about historical past.
I requested him about his curiosity within the hidden historical past of the 1871 Los Angeles Chinese language Bloodbath, which was led by each whites and Latinos for revenge of a dying that resulted from Chinese language gang battle. The American bloodbath was marked as the one highest variety of lynchings in a single occasion. Lum has written a movement image screenplay about it he hopes to get produced. Official discover of the tragedy has elevated not too long ago and Lum goes to submit a proposal to the town for a public memorial honoring the victims – providing a logo of recent beginnings to hopefully, and rightly, supplant the numerous statues of questionable leaders slowly being dismantled worldwide.
All of this reveals Lum’s curiosity in refocusing our perceptions, discovering our widespread expertise and residing within the current, although a lot of his uncanny and generally ironic work attracts on a deep and mired previous and although it’s his honest intent to contribute to what quantities to new historical past. He cares about what’s proper in entrance of him.
To wrap up our interview, I despatched him a fast textual content message. “What’s your final objective as an artist: to current polemics, have interaction disenfranchised lots, mirror deception, and generate peace – or one thing else altogether? When you had your druthers, what would you like within the life you’ve got chosen and manifested?”
In pure Ken Lum fashion, he shortly despatched me this easy honest textual content, “To depart the world with my voice via my artwork. For others to consider my complexities after taking in my artwork. I need to reside so long as my kids reside, in order that I can absolutely take of their lives.”
Whereas I’m positive we’ll have Lum and his exceptional works round for years, hopefully, his kids and the generations to come back will reside long gone his keep on Earth and carry his basic current tense intent with them.
Ken Lum’s work is on view at Magenta Plains from September 17 – October 15 and the Artwork Gallery of Ontario till January 2, 2023. His work can even be represented by Royale Initiatives at Artwork Toronto from October 27 – 30. WM