John Wood and Paul Harrison, installation view from ‘I DIDN’T KNOW I DIDN’T KNOW IT’, Contemporary Art Gallery, February 12 – April 24, 2016. Photography by SITE Photography

Publication Review | Ken Lum

A dark, navy blue circle lies on the glossy softcover exhibition catalogue Ken Lum, which documents the 2001 exhibition Ken Lum presented at the CAG. With coloured photographs, essays by Michael Turner and Keith Wallace describe and interpret the works that were shown at the time: Seven adjustable-type business signs created from 2000-2001. As well as reading Lum’s business signs as a standalone series, Turner and Wallace look back on Lum’s past works, identifying the different strategies used by the artist and the interests explored in his comprehensive practice.

Lum is a Canadian artist from Vancouver who is internationally and locally renowned. He has made significant contributions to the development and recognition of Vancouver as a hub for contemporary art. As part of the Vancouver photoconceptualist movement, Lum quickly developed a distinct visual aesthetic and conceptual strategy to explore his interests in the relationship between images and language, portraits, and the use of an existing visual economy to create moments of humour and provocation.

Lum’s work can seem quite simple and mundane at first. Seven colourful business signs with adjustable-type, the kind you would see driving along Kingsway, were hung on the walls at the CAG. Using the movable letters, each business promoted one of their attractive services or sales to the public. However, along with these advertisements, each sign also carried a sometimes funny, yet at other times, too personal story that was up on public display. For example, McGill & Son (2001) starts off with a typical customer service industry phrase: “TO MY VALUED CUSTOMERS”, but is then followed with “MY SON IS NO LONGER MY SON”.

Embedded in these signs, that one would associate with small family businesses, are questions around the construction and production of identity. His exploration of identity through popular culture and images speaks to the power of these commonplace and iconic signifiers. By using a visual language that is familiar and accessible, the artist explores how existing political, economic, social and cultural structures play a significant role in the creation of one’s identity, as seen by others, but also by oneself.

Ken Lum was produced alongside the 2001 exhibition Ken Lum and can be purchased in person at the CAG shop or online.