Renowned Toronto-based artist Amy Ching-Yan Lam’s newest exhibit, a small but comfy house and maybe a dog, premiered at the Richmond Art Gallery in late April. Following its unconventional sculptural work and gallery practices — including allowing attendees to borrow gallery pieces and place them temporarily within their own homes — this exhibit has garnered the attention of major Canadian publications, including CBC Radio 1, who ran an on-air review on May 4th, 2023. As visitors enter the Richmond Art Gallery, they are brought into Lam’s created world. She has compiled a mixture of small-scale models, created in tandem with sculpting, repurposed toys, and micro-neon lights which cast small glows of purples and warm pinks onto her tiny sets. The exhibit focuses heavily on her personal life by drawing from her own childhood toys, and exploring the origins behind the exhibit’s name. The title of the exhibit, a small but comfy house and maybe a dog, comes from a time capsule letter she wrote in 1994 about her future. At age 11, she wrote to her older self, stating, “[at age 25] I’ll be married by now. I’ll have a job — a teacher or a chemist. I’ll have a small but comfy house and maybe a dog. […] In all, I’ll have a pretty good life.” This letter has since been digitized, enlarged and laid on the wall of the exhibit. Lam’s work takes her title and deconstructs its original meaning, originally written with simple intentions; she has used this exhibition to dissect the sentence and pull out the underlying complexities, such as colonial history, property, theft, and institutional collections.
Her works in this collection all reflect her main piece, entitled ‘Looty Goes to Heaven’. This exhibit centerpiece is a 4min. 30sec looped video of Looty, a Pekingese dog stolen from China and given to Queen Victoria amidst the Opium wars of the mid 1800s. The looped video surveys a realistically digitized Looty, asleep on a small purple blanket. Her digitized form creates a coveted focal point for the exhibit, serving as the representation of the ‘dog’ in said ‘small house,’ repurposed into the context of Looty’s history. Lam worked to reimagine Looty’s tragic story, both within the looped video, and through her 2022 book ‘Looty Goes to Heaven’.
Throughout the creation of this exhibition, Lam collaborated with Haeahn Woo Kwon, a sculptor and installation artist based in Halifax . Together, they created a series of sculptures inspired loosely by fairytales and fables. When asked about her collaboration with Woo Kwon, Lam shared that she was inspired by Kwon’s idea for a ‘one bedroom apartment inside a donut.’ Together the two created a sculptural series based on the idea, entitled ‘Oopsy Compound’. The works can be found within Lam’s exhibition. ‘Oopsy Compound’ follows the idea of a communal home, and exists as a series of models representing what that may look like with a twist of absurdity — living inside a gourd, or on top of a flip flop. Lam represented communal housing within the context of fantasy as a form of exploration — playing with what it may look like if we absolved property ownership and attempted a life of communal benefit.
Notably, in a small but comfy house Lam proposes the idea for a lending program, where certain pieces within the gallery are able to be brought home by visitors and returned in similar fashion to a library of books. Lam intended this as a way to pay tribute to the Richmond Library, which connects to the RAG, and celebrates the library as a free gathering space. As such, these artworks can be found in both the Gallery and the Library. While conducting a research visit to the Richmond Cultural Centre, Lam and her team discovered that the Richmond Library housed the Dr. Kwok-Chu Lee collection, an archive of over 45,000 artworks and Chinese language books, and this collection was integrated into the gallery. Dr. Lee was also a prominent practitioner of Feng Shui within the Richmond community, and Lam used this knowledge to push his influence into the exhibit. In doing so, she received a reading in the Gallery space by Sherman Tai — a Richmond based Feng Shui practitioner. His reading influenced Lam’s usage of the space and the placement of her artwork, all of which lined the walls and covered the floor. Consequently, this has brought Lam’s work to a new audience, allowing for visitors with an interest in sculptural work, historial retellings, elements of fantasy, and a non-traditional gallery experience, to find a meaningful connection within the exhibition.
A small but comfy house and maybe a dog will remain in the RAG until June 11th, 2023, though ‘Looty goes to Heaven’ may be found through artmetropole.com.