According to artists Amy Lam and Jon McCurley, from the conceptual art duo Life of a Craphead, the past and ongoing effects of Western colonialism in areas outside of North America have not been sufficiently examined. In response to this problem, the duo endeavours to report on experiences and representations of colonialism in Asia. Through family histories, anecdotes, and popular references, Lam and McCurley reveal dynamics of “otherization” that have shaped history; they look at events that have been excluded from it, and memories that have been altered or made invisible. Their practice addresses the multiple manifestations of racism and sexism entangled within the colonial system as a way to demonstrate its persistent presence and to untie the traumas that bind it. A subtle but incisive humour is ever-present in their work, which infiltrates historic material and transforms its substance. Their critical interventions problematize the power relations that organize and instrumentalize its underlying stereotypes. Thus revealed, these power relations and stereotypes contribute to a political rewriting of history.
McCurley’s genealogy and the violent events that have marked it unfold in the main gallery. Three complementary pieces—two Wikipedia pages and a pair of photographs of the One Pillar Pagoda—refer to Phạm Thận Duật (1825-1885), an ancestor of the artist who took part in the anticolonial resistance movement in Vietnam. Until recently, his involvement in the resistance was unknown and it was believed he had been a collaborator of the French forces. In Find the U.S. Soldier That Killed Your Grandma, the duo presents in the expanded form of a comic strip their quest to find the American soldier who assassinated McCurley’s grandmother, Phạm Thị Sinh, during the Vietnam War. Examples of discrimination against Asian women are also expressed in other works on view, while the work of British writer Graham Greene and Canadian painter Chris Cran are truncated and severed to highlight the oppression they perpetuate. Ceilings with Clowns combines the notions of glass ceiling and bamboo ceiling to evoke the barriers Asian women face within the workplace. The installation now includes clowns, added in reaction to a comment made by a selection committee (composed entirely of white members) that the original sculpture was not “that” funny.
Life of a Craphead addresses the tragic and the unspeakable through sarcasm and satire, however subtle it may be. The result is a sharp observation of colonialism, where the power dynamics that shape our relationship to others are turned on themselves.
- Maude Johnson (translation : Jo-Anne Balcaen)
Life of a Craphead is the collaboration of Amy Lam and Jon McCurley. Their work spans performance art, film, and curation. The name Life of a Craphead comes from the opening joke of the very first live comedy routine they performed together in 2006. Past performance projects include King Edward VII Statue Floating Down the Don River (2017), where they dumped a life-size replica of a colonial statue into a Toronto river on a weekly basis for a month and The Life of a Craphead Fifty Year Retrospective, 2006-2056 (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2013), a fake career retrospective of all the work they will ever make. Their first feature film Bugs (2016) screened across Canada and the U.S.Life of a Craphead also organized and hosted the performance art show and online broadcast Doored from 2012-2017. They were longlisted for the 2018 Sobey Art Award and are inaugural recipients of the Sobey Art Award Residency at the Delfina Foundation, London U.K. Amy is Chinese and Jon is Vietnamese-Irish, and they live and work in Toronto.
- Life of a Craphead
FEBRUARY 28 TO APRIL 6, 2019
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 8PM
ARTIST TALK /
SATURDAY, MARCH 2, 3PM