The Lap-See Lam exhibition, Tales of the Altersea, which explores the cultural transition of the Hong Kong Chinese diaspora in Europe, will run from March 11 to May 28, 2023.
As numerous Chinese restaurants in Sweden, including the one managed by Lap-See Lam’s parents, were forced to close or change ownership in the 2010s, the artist set out to 3D scan as many of them as possible in order to preserve their history. These glitchy reproductions, which resulted in an expanded archive, have since defined her visual vocabulary.
Lam’s works, which range from sculptures to videos, decode the ambiguous connotation of chinoiserie and examine the cultural transition of Hong Kong’s Chinese diaspora in Europe. Tales of the Altersea continues the artist’s exploration of the opposing concepts of cultural affinity and disidentification.
The show begins with the unique narrative of the Sea Palace, a three-story floating restaurant shaped like a dragon that sailed from Shanghai to Europe in the early 1990s. After a string of failed projects, the ship docked in Stockholm, where it found new life as a haunted house in the Gröna Lund amusement park. The history of the restaurant, as well as its iconic Chinese décor, shape Lam’s images and serve as a reference for a new series of works that reach from the outside to the inside of Portikus.
Tales of the Altersea is centered on the namesake 8-channel video work, which is projected onto the gallery’s walls and floors, creating the illusion of being within a magical lantern. The phantom-like aesthetic of the piece, like with earlier works by Lam, draws from the visual language of shadow puppetry, a classic style of storytelling directly linked to Chinese folklore that reached Europe through imperialistic trade relations. The plot centres around two twin sisters’ underwater adventure and their encounters with a cast of characters who are either related to or influenced by Cantonese mythology and history. In the same way that shadow plays were previously accompanied by songs, the music and soundscape by composers Linus Hillborg and Marlena Salonen, with vocals by Bruno Hibombo, leads the audience deeper into Lam’s poetics.
The artist interweaves complicated myths with international experiences using magical realism storytelling tactics to simultaneously claim ownership of and complicate the concept of cultural heritage. Tales of the Altersea explores the various meanings of ‘generation loss’ by combining ancient and new techniques. On the one hand, referring to what is lost in translation between different mediums, and on the other, referring to what knowledge is not passed down from generation to generation, culture to culture.
Lap-See Lam (b. 1990 in Stockholm, Sweden) is an artist based in Stockholm, Sweden. Recent solo exhibitions include Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2022); Trondheim Kunstmuseum (2021); Moderna Museet Malmö (2018–2019). Her work has been shown in group exhibitions at KINDL—Centre for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2022); GHOST 2565, Bangkok (2022); PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv (2021); Performa 19, New York (2019).
Tales of the Altersea is initiated by Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, curated by Liberty Adrien and Carina Bukuts. A future iteration at Swiss Institute, New York, will be presented from May to August 2023. A joint public program will be organized by both institutions. An accompanying artist publication will be published by Portikus.
The exhibition is made possible by major support from Hessisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst and the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung. Generous support is provided by the Adolf und Luisa Haeuser-Stiftung für Kunst und Kulturpflege. Additional support is provided by the Swedish Arts Grants Committee, Eidotech, and Städelschule Portikus e.V.. Portikus gratefully acknowledges the support of Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm/Berlin/Mexico City, and Kulturamt der Stadt Frankfurt am Main.