Yam Lau: Tour China

Yam Lau
Curated by Irene Loughlin

November 5, 2013–April 1, 2014
Reception: November 21, 2013, 7:00-9:30pm
Travel talk by Yam Lau: November 30, 2013, 2:00pm
Travel Talk by Andy Patton: February 15, 2014, 2:00pm

Installed on the exterior wall of the Hamilton Artists Inc., Tour China, a 36′ ‘travel poster’ by Yam Lau is a fictional enterprise that mimics the operation of a commercial travel agency. Adapting familiar promotional and operational elements of tourist travel to access and traverse factual and literal representations of China, the installation mines the past and present, real and imagined. Acknowledging China’s historical and contemporary realities this installation also recognizes China as a construct of poetic tropes and mythologies.

At first glance, this colourful and apparently decorative poster contains many popular and stereotypical referents to China as perpetuated through its cultural tourism industry. The work is framed as an invitation to ‘Tour China’, however, the subtext invites the viewer to further consider the work as an experimental exercise in cultural tourism. Cultural motifs and patterning (invoking Lau’s recent projects) reveal a traditional landscape in soft focus. A woman, (mythological character Princess Iron Fan), appears in triplicate and comes into focus in the foreground of the poster. Upon further investigation, an imbedded image of the Tiananmen Square massacre can be discovered within this scenic, cultural tribute.  Although these images are widely circulated within a western context, this journalistic photo and other representations of oppression have been censored by the Chinese government within China. Using a similarly subtle application, a vintage photograph of the artist as a boy appears in the lower left hand corner, functioning somewhat as the semiotic ‘signature’ of the work, and a faint, archival image of the great wall of China appears behind the central female figure. The artist’s ambivalent reaction towards a rich cultural heritage ruled by an oppressive regime is represented through the guise of this travel ad.  As China rises as an economic world power, tourism is fast becoming a medium for soft propaganda. Using the aesthetics and mechanisms of the tourism industry, Tour China disrupts expectations and creates a disjuncture between rhetoric and desire.

– Irene Loughlin, Curator


Yam Lau was born in Hong Kong. He received his MFA from the University of Alberta and is now based in Toronto where he is an Associate Professor of painting at York University. Lau publishes regularly on art and design and has exhibited his work widely throughout Canada, USA, Europe and China. He is a co-founder of the community-based art project Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art in Beijing, China. His work is represented by Katzman Contemporary Gallery in Toronto, Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran in Montreal and Yuanfen New Media Art Space in Beijing.

This exhibition is made possible through the Visual Arts Section, Canada Council for Arts.

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