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Karen Tam

With wings like clouds hung from the sky

May 4, 2019 - June 30, 2019

Opening Reception:
Friday, May 3, 2019, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

With wings like clouds hung from the sky presents an evolving body of work and academic research led by Montreal-based artist Karen Tam. Since 2014, Tam has conducted research on a relatively unknown artist Lee Nam, a Chinese immigrant to British Columbia in the early 20th century, and a friend/colleague of Canadian painter Emily Carr. Through a set of exhibitions and residencies at the Mendel Art Gallery (2014) and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) (2017) Tam has produced an installation reimagining Nam’s Victoria Chinatown painting studio.

At Richmond Art Gallery (RAG) this spring, Tam builds on these earlier installations and draws on archival research to evoke the presence of this unknown artist and his influence on Carr’s approach to painting in the mid-1930s. Tam’s installation makes visual the influences of East and West that shaped the context that Lee Nam worked in. The project expands from Nam’s specific biography to engage a broader dialogue contemplating contemporary Chinese multi-generational and immigrant artistic experience in Canada. Tam reimagines Nam’s studio as a platform to connect lineages and kinships among Chinese, Hong Kongese, Taiwanese and Canadian Ink brush practitioners. Within the exhibition, Tam presents the work of 20th century Chinese ink brush artists such as Qi Baishi and Yu Fei’an, alongside the work of Victoria and Montreal-based artists Lui Luk Chun and Tam’s own mother. Tam also presents the work of local contemporary ink brush artists from across Richmond and Lower Mainland connecting to specific teachers and stylistic kinships to Nam and China. This invitation by Tam to local artists seeks to emerge an intimate conversation across generations, and bring visibility to the artistic legacy of Chinese communities living in Canada.

Alongside the exhibition RAG is producing a substantive publication in partnership with the AGGV and Varley Art Gallery (VAG) encompassing the in-depth historical research and aesthetic responses Tam has completed. The publication is a unique undertaking for RAG and its partners, as it ventures to connect contemporary conceptual practice with a broader history of Chinese-Canadian cultural exchange and influence, examining the work of Chinese artists living and working in Canadian communities, while also shedding new light on Asian influences in the work of Emily Carr.

Karen Tam is an artist whose research focuses on the various forms of constructions and imaginations of cultures and communities, through her installation work in which she recreates spaces of Chinese restaurants, karaoke lounges, opium dens, curio shops and other sites of cultural encounters. Since 2000, she has exhibited her work and participated in residencies in North America, Europe, and China, including the Deutsche Börse Residency at the Frankfurter Kunstverein (Germany), Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (Canada), and CUE Art Foundation (USA). She was a finalist for the Prix Louis-Comtois in 2017 from the Contemporary Art Galleries Association and the Ville de Montréal, a finalist for the Prix en art actuel from the Musée national des beaux-arts de Québec in 2016, and long-listed for the Sobey Art Award in 2016 and 2010. Her works are in museum, corporate, and private collections in Canada, United States, and United Kingdom.

Tam lives and works in Montréal and holds a MFA in Sculpture from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a PhD in Cultural Studies from Goldsmiths (University of London). She is a contributor to Alison Hulme (ed.) book, The Changing Landscape of China’s Consumerism (2014) and to John Jung’s book, Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurant (2010). She is represented by Galerie Hugues Charbonneau.

Presented in association with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.



Above: Karen Tam, "Flying Cormorant Studio (For Lee Nam)," 2014, as installed at the Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, SK.