Ronnen Glass Box Theater
Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building
Inaugurating the Buffalo AKG’s new Ronnen Glass Box Theater, Lap-See Lam: Dreamers’ Quay welcomes visitors into a 360-degree immersive moving-image shadow play. Over five acts, we follow the young girl A’Yan, who enters a mirror in her mother’s Chinese restaurant and moves through a dream world across centuries and between different mediated images of China.
Through her large-scale projection-based animations, film, virtual reality, and sculptural work Lap-See Lam (Swedish, born 1990) considers how myths, popular culture, and fiction can both define and alter perceptions of identity and belonging. At the center of Lam’s artistic practice is her interest in the Chinese restaurant as a dream space, frozen in time, with interiors rooted in fantasies of the great emperors and the Qing dynasty. It is also a space with its own distinct history as an image of the East that developed in the Western world. Lam’s work considers this space’s double nature as both a fantasy and real place with personal and private stories that connect to the Cantonese diaspora today.
Dreamers’ Quay, 2022 engages with universal questions defining the immigrant experience. Like the Chinese restaurant, Chinese shadow puppetry arrived in the West through the sea trade and migration from the East. In Dreamers’ Quay, Lam makes use of its storytelling potential to weave together perceptions of the Hong Kong-Chinese diaspora across the world and address the translation—and mistranslation—of cultural heritage. The work considers the history and ambiguous connotations of chinoiserie, or the European imitation of Chinese artistic traditions, in addition to Chinese immigration to Sweden, and Lam’s own family history. Such imagery, Lam’s work shows, is one way to create a sense that a people is other, or exotic. Lam takes the viewer through the ways this translated and retranslated imagery is again taken up by the people of the diaspora themselves, to both affirm and redefine their own identity.
Dreamer’s Quay addresses the fact that Western representations of East Asia often say more about the West than they do about the East: from the kitschy decor of the Chinese restaurant to the cultural stereotypes of the Chinese dynasties perpetuated through shadow plays and the manipulation of Chinese decorative arts and architecture. These form a visual vocabulary for what is implicit in the ongoing processes of othering and self-exoticizing that continue to shape a Western image of the East.
This exhibition is organized by Curator-at-Large & Curator, Nordic Art and Culture Initiative Helga Christoffersen.