Germaine Koh and Ken Lum 06.20.2001 Rice Paper


Germaine Koh and Ken Lum

Contemporary Art Gallery

555 Nelson Street, Vancouver, BC

Until July 14th 

By Ron Nurwisah

It's interesting that the Contemporary Art Gallery choose the works of Germaine Koh and Ken Lum to open their new space. I can't say that there's anything in common between the works shown here.

Koh's two installations stretch the boundaries of art, becoming almost part of the building itself. A smoke machine located outside of the gallery puffed out columns of Vatican-like white smoke. The machine was connected to a computer inside the gallery. Visitors are invited to type out messages which are sent out in Morse code smoke signals by the machine.

Koh's second work is equally puzzling. One room of the gallery appears to be empty except for hundreds of tiny ball bearings on the floor. A few more ball bearings randomly fall from the ceiling, making it seem like someone had forgot to turn off a faucet. As I stood in the middle of the room, the effect was almost hypnotic. The patterns the ball bearings left were almost completely random but there was also a Zen-like quality to the whole experience; the rain-like pitter-patter of the bearings against the floor and the simple beauty of it all. The display didn't look like much at first glance, but I easily found something more in the piece. 

Ken Lum's garish and colourful signs are the antithesis to Koh's work, which inspires introspection and meditative thought. Lum's work, a series of shop signs, wouldn't be out of place in suburbia, but he twists this part of everyday life.

A sign from an imaginary Indian restaurant asks for peace in the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. A motel owner begs his wife or girlfriend to come back to him. The business of McGill and Sons looks like it might be going through familial difficulties as their sign proclaims, "my son is no longer my son."

The work isn't very aesthetically pleasing and it seems pedestrian, but it certainly raised a chuckle. Lum elevates ordinary signs into something much more artistic and meaningful. After all, if Koh can make me meditate on smoke and ballbearings, Lum should be able to make me think about ordinary shop signs.

Ron Nurwisah is a Chinese Indonesian turned Canadian. He leads a double life as the Culture Editor at the Ubyssey student newspaper.