Ken Lum, a Canadian artist, has a way of interweaving text, image and crippling self-doubt into his artwork that makes most artists salivate. When I saw his installation (30 year retrospective) at the Vancouver Art Gallery, especially House of Realization (produced for the Istanbul Biennale in 2007), 12 Signs of Depression, and his recent Rorschach Shopkeeper Signs, I felt as if Mr. Lum had found a worthwhile use of mankind’s endless capacity for useless information. His use of imagery and text, allows the viewer a more personal connection with the photographs. This is especially strong for me in the images of children and the texts reference to the type of loneliness and solitude unique to that age (“Carton of eggs, container of milk, & a stick of butter. Carton of eggs, container of milk, & a stick of butter”).
VAG summed it up best, “Using the portrait as his working model, Lum comments on various elements of contemporary life and art by juxtaposing text, whether it be a person’s name or a fragment of a thought or dialogue, with photographs of stereotypes of people in ordinary (but staged) situations and environments. The friction that is created between the text and the image, while usually ironic, is more often unsettling and always ambiguous. In works that deal with issues such as race and class in a multicultural society and the influence of corporate power and mass media there is a critical edge that in some ways appears to make an intimate crisis or situation very exposed but this critique is less about the social type portrayed by Lum then about the inadequate social landscape that engenders such disfunction. In the end the viewer often feels some kind of kinship and sympathy for the characters in Lum’s dramas”.
Lum has had a rich life as artist and educator. He taught at the University of British Columbia (1990-2006), and then at Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of Arts (2005-2007). Twice he was a visiting professor at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Lum has been a guest lecturer at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunst in Munich, the China Art Academy in Hangzhou, China, the l’Ecole d’Arts Plastique in Fort de France, Martinique, De Ateliers, and the Rijksakademie (Amsterdam), the Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine and the Banff Centre. And I like him.