Ken Lum: On Public Art and the Unsayable

A Lecture by Ken Lum

Ken Lum’s practice as an artist is concerned with the dialectics of the private and public construction of identity, space and politics. Born in Vancouver, where he continues to live and work, Lum is internationally renowned for his work in sculpture, painting and photography. Monument for East Vancouver (pictured) is his third public art commission in Vancouver.

He has participated in numerous international art exhibitions, including the Sydney Biennale, Venice Biennale, Documenta XI in Kassel, Germany and more recently, the 2007 Istanbul Biennial and 2008 Gwangju Biennale in South Korea.

Lum has also led a distinguished career as an educator, teaching at the University of British Columbia, where he was Head of the Graduate Program in Studio Art from 2000 to 2006 and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, among other educational institutions. He has published widely and is the Founding Editor of Yishu: The Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art. Lum was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 1999 and awarded a Killam Award for Outstanding Research in 1998 and the Hnatyshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award in 2007.

He is presently working on two major public art commissions in Berlin and in Utrecht, Holland. Lum has worked on several public art projects. “Pi,” sponsored by the city of Vienna, Austria, and Wiener Linien (Vienna Public Transit), opened in downtown Vienna in January 2007. The work is over 130 meters long and situated in a prominent pedestrian passageway by Vienna’s Karlsplatz subway interchange. In 2000, also in Vienna, he realized a work that responded to the growth of the extreme right in Europe called “There is no place like home,” which was installed on the side of the centrally located Vienna Kunsthalle.

“Four Boats Stranded: Red and Yellow, Black and White” was installed upon the roof of the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2001. The work, which can be viewed as a comment on immigration and acculturation, features four model boats: a First Nations longboat, a cargo ship, the steam liner Komagata Maru, and George Vancouver’s ship HMS Discovery. Each vessel has been placed at one of the building’s compass points – north, south, east, and west – and painted in a colour intended to reflect the stereotyped racial vision presented in the hymn “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”

A book of his writings from Walther Koenig Books (Cologne) is forthcoming. In 2008, he completed a book project, titled Ultimo Bagaglio (Three Star Press, Paris) with French philosopher Hubert Damisch.