Ken Lum, What Am I Going To Do?, 2021
Work is one of the few truly universal and common aspects of human life. Work is a necessity, and a source of pride and self-worth. But all too often, also a source of the contrary: uncertainty and stress. The people portrayed in these new works are representative of what Ken Lum (1956, Canada) recognizes as “persons who are inheritors of the contradictory and too often pernicious effects of modernity. The contemporaneity they find themselves in is often oppressive and the characters have to struggle against it, often feebly.”
The job market is an important indicator of major changes in society, such as the emergence of the so-called gig economy. By observing working men and women, Lum reveals the often merciless nature of corporatism and capitalism. And yet, there is a humanity and largesse to these works, due to the fact that we recognise ourselves in the people shown. While each individual is portrayed in relative isolation, Ken Lum tells us we are not alone in our dealings with everyday struggles and challenges. The current global health crisis and its impact demonstrates once again how all of our private and professional lives are deeply entwined.
In this and other series by the artist, text and image together invite us to look differently at the other, and so, at ourselves. Lum’s work shows us that the line between the recognisable and the cliché or the stereotype is a thin one. The contrast or tension between what we see (image) and what we read (text) makes us question prejudices about identity and offers us alternatives that expand the field of public imagination and representation.
This new body of work is titled Time. And Again., evoking time as a fundamental backdrop or horizon of human life. Not so much linear time though, but circular time: in our lives, we often encounter the same concerns over and over. The title alludes to the often excessive amount of time we spend working and worrying (about work), reworking, and rethinking. Lastly, repetition is also stylistically present in the writing of the short texts included in each new work. Like a mantra or a prayer, through repeated phrases each individual tries to come to terms with what they are feeling.
Time. And Again. is curated by Samuel Saelemakers, curator of the Public Art Collection of Antwerp.
The portraits part of the new works by Ken Lum were made by photographer Michiel Devijver.
About Ken Lum
The relation between work or labour and identity is a recurring theme in the oeuvre of Ken Lum, who is internationally known as one of the most interesting voices in the debate on art, representation and public space. His work combines recognisability of image and readability of text with a keen sense for nuance and critical observation. Since the late 1980s, Lum has been developing a unique body of work that articulates concerns about family, class, contemporary life’s struggles, and hybrid identity. Through text and image, he connects the individual with the recognisable, and the intimate with the common.
“Words are used in my work to augment the experience of the photographs. In doing so, the text underlines the insufficiency of the photograph to capture real experience. I also hope that the text creates a picture of its own, related to but distinctly different from the given picture.”
Ken Lum was born in 1956 in Vancouver, Canada. He lives and works in Philadelphia, USA, where he is Chair of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. Over the past thirty years, his work was shown at the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paulo Biennale, the Shanghai Biennale, the Carnegie Triennial, the Sydney Biennale, the Busan Biennale, the Liverpool Biennale, Gwangju Biennale, Moscow Biennale, and the Whitney Biennale.
In 2020 “Everything is Relevant. Writings on Art and Life 1991-2018 ”, a collection of essays and lectures was published by Concordia University Press. Together with Paul Farber, Ken Lum is the founder of Monument Lab, an organization dedicated to the historical study and contemporary creation of art in public space.
- On view from 4 June until 3 October 2021
- Cockerillkaai, 2000 Antwerp