How can we access memories both shaped and obscured by immigration and cultural assimilation—something vaguely defined as the diaspora experience? What role does language and material heritage play in constructing often conflicting feelings of hope and anxiety, fear and belonging?
To Lap-See Lam, a second generation Swedish-Cantonese artist, Chinese restaurants are undoubtedly imbued with a general richness of meaning and stereotyping. Mother’s Tongue (2018) and Phantom Banquet (2019-2020) form part of an ongoing series of work that negotiates layered immigrant experience in Sweden, weaving together the personal and the mythical.
Produced in collaboration with filmmaker Wing-Yee Wu, Mother’s Tongue was originally designed as a mobile phone app. Using 3D laser scanning, it documents and preserves the interior of several Chinese restaurants in Stockholm at a time when many of them are about to be taken off the map, and turns to fictional, even fantastical, narratives to craft a speculative trajectory. The mobile app unfolds over three restaurant locations—Peach Tongue, Miss China, and Cyborg World—and encourages you to physically visit these sites that are no longer there.
Acting as voice overs, ghosts or spirits with AI voices speak from the years 1978, 2018, and 2058, respectively, as they bear witness to three generations of immigrants who have passed through these locales, showcasing moments of tenderness, displacement, and cultural clashes against sweeping changes in technology and the global landscape. In an intimate and revealing scene, we hear a mother diagnose her daughter’s swollen tongue as a psychosomatic symptom, invoking the saying “a tongue has a special relationship to the heart”.
Large ornamental vases, faded colors, and archival photographs inhabit this ghostly world bedecked with lavish furnishings. Mother's Tongue takes the viewer on a journey that is reminiscent of an archeological dig from the future or an undersea shipwreck, providing a distanced lens to look at prevailing tropes of techno-orientalism and otherness.
Historically, Chinese restaurants have long existed as an exotic other in the Western imagination of those seeking alternative dining experiences; more recently, East Asian businesses are often seen as the quickest to embrace robots and artificial intelligence in replacing manual labor forces. However, between the cracks in the jagged polygons of the 3D scans, the multiple dimensions and complexity of lived lives shine through.
Continuing the thematic exploration of diaspora identity in Mother’s Tongue, Phantom Banquet picks up where the previous work left off. Originally produced as a Performa 19 Commission in the form of a multimedia installation and performance piece, it was presented as a 360-degree video at Lap-See Lam’s solo exhibition at Galerie Nordenhake Stockholm.
Following the young protagonist at its center, we are transported through portal after portal, through an extravagant restaurant interior, to an eerie space-time void, then back to the narration of a timeless tale. Through a retelling of the folkloric tradition of ghostly visitations, with the added visual dimension of VR and animation, the work engages with ritualistic summoning, familial legacies, and the circularity of time. Who, really, sits at the banquet table?
Special Special encourages you to delve into this expansive, multimedia universe, and maybe even find Easter eggs along the way.
Experience Phantom Banquet at home with your smartphone here. Headphones are recommended. You can order an inexpensive flatpack headset for your smartphone online or make your own.
Lap-See Lam was born 1990 in Stockholm. She has a major upcoming solo exhibition at Bonniers Konsthall opening in January 2022. Solo exhibitions include Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm (2020); Skellefteå Konsthall, Skellefteå (2019); Moderna Museet Malmö (2018–2019); and Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2018).
She has taken part in group exhibitions at venues including Uppsala Konstmuseum, Stockholm (2020); Performa 19 Biennial, New York City (2019); Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, Paris (2019); Luleå Biennial (2018); Kópavogur Art Museum, Kópavogur (2018); Kendra Jayne Patrick, New York City (2018); and Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2017).
She was awarded the Maria Bonnier Dahlin Price in 2017 and highlighted in the Forbes Europe Under 30 Art & Culture List in 2020.
Wing-Yee Wu is a filmmaker currently based in Stockholm. She went to graduate film school at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and has made multiple fiction short films. Mother’s Tongue is an art-video and a collaboration with Lap-See Lam, on view in the permanent collection of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Wing-Yee is currently developing Mother’s Tongue into a feature film.
For Show and Tell, Special Special invites a selection of artists to produce or share work that can be viewed in the browser, downloaded, or streamed. The work is presented as a series of digital exhibitions periodically delivered to email inboxes.