Joni Low on the artwork of Ken Lum
Curated by Michelle Jacques, Johan Lundh, and Xiaoyu Weng
WE LIVE IN A TIME of furnishings with out recollections. Toni Morrison, in her novel The Bluest Eye (1970), describes this as “definitely no recollections to be cherished.” Silent witnesses, our furnishings can evoke inarticulable but visceral reactions: Take the couch that arrived broken, which one nonetheless pays for month-to-month, whose “joylessness stank,” to borrow Morrison’s phrases, is “pervading every little thing.” This object bears haunted traces of the indescribable circumstances surrounding our situation. Maybe the truths of our existence lie furtively between the unhappy sunken sofa and the overarching social structure of racial capitalism, which whispers how and why desires die.
Ken Lum’s exhibition on the Artwork Gallery of Ontario, “Loss of life and Furnishings,” begins with these philosophical certainties, solely to unravel them. By way of his “Furnishings Sculptures,” 1978–, a sequence of mirror works and image-text items, Lum deftly conjures the bigger social contexts and emotions that exceed language and illustration. The present—which was curated by Michelle Jacques and Johan Lundh for the Remai Trendy in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, earlier than coming to Toronto; the present iteration has been organized by AGO’s Xiaoyu Weng—presents a centered number of Lum’s oeuvre from the previous forty years, connecting recurrent threads inside the artist’s follow: mortality, the instabilities of id, and distinction, filtered by way of the artist’s trademark acerbic humor.
A row of upturned gray-fabric couches cuts solemnly throughout a gallery like tombstones. Flanking them is “Time. And Once more.,” 2021, a set of Lum’s repeated-text billboards, up to date to handle the anxieties exacerbated by our elongated pandemic and our cyclical “dying whereas residing.” The format’s tensions oscillate between what’s seen and what’s mentioned, enacting our subjective interpretations to fill narrative gaps. The themes portrayed are from numerous backgrounds: a younger contract laborer ready for his or her subsequent gig, a freshly unemployed elder with a canine, mother and father scuffling with the collapse of work-life boundaries at dwelling. The billboard I do know I’m fortunate. I’ve a job, 2021, juxtaposes an image of a masked, middle-aged white lady delivering on-line orders with the deadpan mantra I KNOW I’M LUCKY. I HAVE A JOB. I KNOW I’M LUCKY, I’M SO LUCKY. TO HAVE A JOB. The work’s jarring crimson letters on a blue background irritate. Paradoxically, the supply field’s brand reads FREE TO BE, the hole slogan echoing the false guarantees of late-capitalist consumerism.
As social mirrors, Lum’s works map the difficulties of tolerating psychological and emotional useless ends.
With a lot dying surrounding us, how, and whom, will we commemorate? Lum’s “Necrology Sequence,” 2016–17, a bunch of quasi-fictional obituaries designed in a florid nineteenth-century type, monumentalizes the lives of working-class individuals doomed by racial and international capitalism. The works’ overblown, eclectic typography and irregular kerning carry out an absurd parody of conventional dying notices, honoring the quotidian lives of individuals struggling to outlive with few avenues for change. YASIR KHORSHED, reads one headline that arches dramatically in an Previous Western typeface. Under it’s a story a few man who fought tirelessly for garment staff’ rights, solely to die on the age of thirty-four from most cancers brought on by benzene, a particularly poisonous chemical used within the textile business. The Most Unlucky Case of Lucy Chona Santos, 2016, set in an archaic serif face, recounts how Lucy supported her household in Manila by gleaning worthwhile objects from rubbish, solely to be sentenced to dying for smuggling heroin after being tricked by a world drug gang. Certainly, Lum doesn’t permit those that have fallen by way of the cracks to be forgotten.
In Mirror Maze with 12 Indicators of Despair, 2002—an set up that deserves point out because it was within the Remai Trendy presentation however sadly just isn’t included right here—we’re confronted with ourselves, mirrored and fragmented advert infinitum, with no clear exits. Ideas brought on by medical despair—LIFE IS NOT WORTH LIVING, THERE IS NO FUTURE FOR ME—are etched onto the mirrors, recalling the all-too-familiar hopelessness produced by the pandemic and signaling humanity’s wider mental-health malaise. Just like digital areas we’ve created to try to keep connection and solidify our existence, Mirror Maze presciently warns of the digital realm’s disorientations and claustrophobic isolation. As social mirrors, Lum’s works map the difficulties of tolerating psychological and emotional useless ends. Trapped inside these echo chambers, unable to discern phantasm from reality, self from different, who’re we actually projecting to? Might this fragmentation be a dying of sure egoistic concepts of what it means to be human, providing one other method by way of?
Joni Low is a author, an impartial curator, and a Social Sciences and Humanities Analysis Council Doctoral Fellow at Simon Fraser College in Vancouver.