SafARI Artist Profile- Nikki Lam
Identity and belonging is a topic versed in music, art and literature. Young Melbourne based artist Nikki Lam gives a new context to this subject in her current work, forcing audiences to reflect on the present and future complexity of this issue. Taking from her personal experience and individual awareness, Nikki is able to reinterpret an Iconic Australian photograph - Sunbaker by Max Dupain, giving it new meaning and life.
Take the time to see her work for SafARI at DNA Projects.
At the time this Interview was taken, Nikki was in the UK for her Internship with FACT [Foundation for Art and Creative Technology.
What can we expect to see at the SafARI exhibition?
I made this video work, it’s like a reinterpretation of Max Dupain 'Sunbaker, I think it was made in 1937 and it was the image of an Australian male figure lying on the beach and that figure has been used quite a lot in advertising and tourism in Australia. It's interesting for me to give it a new context and weaving a bit of personal experience with it as well. It's something that loops and is basically just a portrait. It’s quite interesting because I filmed it during sunset and you could see the shadow change within five minutes time, you can also see the wind blowing. It is something you can contemplate on.
When your audience is looking at your work is there something you want them to take from it?
It is an interesting work for me. The work is titled Falling Leaf Returns to its Roots which is a Chinese saying describing how in certain life circumstances you need to go away and explore the world, in the end you always come back and look for your roots and go back home; this idea that it's a cycle of life that one needs to fulfil in some way. For me because of my personal experience with being born in Hong Kong and then coming to Australia, I've tried quite hard to fit into the Australian culture in the past and eventually came to a full circle trying to look for my roots again. I wanted to re-explore Australian identity through that image. It really depends on who is looking at the work. I guess everybody would see it differently.
I've also grown up in the same situation being born overseas and growing up in Australia. Even though I have an Australian accent and I've adapted to the culture, I do miss home and the culture. Sometimes I want to go back but my life is now here. Would you agree?
Yes, going back to your roots in the sense that I can't see myself living in Hong Kong. I live an Australian lifestyle and I love it but it’s more so that there is something you can't really escape from. It's like a pre-existing condition that you are in and to apply that as a metaphor to Australia as a country is quite interesting, because Australia is built on immigration and multi-culture. It's multicultural in a way that there’s tension that people are trying to be Australian but at the same time know their background.
Why have you chosen video art as your medium?
I came from a photo media background, so I used still photography as my medium in the beginning. Then I slowly moved away and into the moving image. I really like the idea of looking at something and spending time with it. I suppose video art forces the audience to do that because if you don't spend a little bit of time looking at it, you're not going to get it, video is also accessible. But I wouldn't say I'm a video artist because I do work with different medium mostly with installations and a video element in it.
In your past exhibitions/work, did you present still photography or did you start exhibiting with moving image?
In the past few years, there have been elements of performance in my work. There was a huge part of me that wanted to become the subject of the work that I make, even with this work that's going to be in SafARI, it's me lying on the beach. I remember the experience when I was filming and becoming the iconic image it was quite interesting. I've also done a few other exhibitions in 2011 that involved installation with found objects. I had an exhibition at Bus Projects in Melbourne and I basically transformed a small gallery into a room of suitcases. Because the gallery was in a basement and the room was quiet small so I built these walls of suitcases; stacked them up with a couple of video work in the middle showing people packing and repacking - that's the more installation side of my practice.
What are you currently doing in the UK?
I'm currently at FACT - Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool. I love it here and I've been making work while I'm here. I leave next week but hopefully I can continue this relationship with FACT and keep working on a project based relationship.
What makes you tick as an artist?
Wow, that's a difficult question...because I suppose predominantly I do make visual art but in recent years I've had this strong passion for curating and writing as well. I think If I had to define my practice as a whole it will probably be somewhere between…well predominantly a visual artist but then 30 - 40% of me would be halfway between a curator and writer/researcher. A bit of hybrid I guess.
Tell us about your project The Curios Other?
The Curios Other is curatorial project that I started last year. I wanted to create this dialogue between artists from different disciplines, actually they don't even have to be artists. I think for the first chapter is was predominantly based within the arts. I'm interested in the online platform, apart from exhibitions and gallery or online exhibitions, there's something else that I could curate. I'm still experimenting on it but I'm currently working on the second chapter. Hopefully this project will become a multimedia platform.
How did you get involved with SafARI?
I applied three years ago and I didn’t get it and this time I did.
Standard proposal application, you write a project description and basically convince them why they should give you the spot. Luckily enough I got it this time.
In Melbourne where's the best place for you to get creative?
That's interesting, I love coffee coming from Melbourne. I love coffee so much that I bought my own coffee dripper with me! I actually googled where I could get single origin coffee. I like hanging out in cafe's and places like that. Because I live in a suburb called Footscray, there's a lot of immigrants there and its very multicultural, predominantly Chinese, Vietnamese and Africans... so I love being there, it's fascinating. It really inspires me!
Now that you're currently in the UK, have you found a favourite hangout?
Yeah, there are a couple of cafes that I really love in Liverpool. There's actually a bit of a story with one of them. There was another girl that did the same course as I did and she came to Liverpool two years ago now and worked here for three months and got her coffee everyday from this cafe just across the street - they make really good coffee. She left, went back to Melbourne and a few months later she went into Auction Rooms in North Melbourne which is the best cafe in Melbourne and saw this Barista and he looked really familiar. They look at each other and then she realised that he was the guy that had made her coffee everyday in Liverpool and he had moved to Melbourne… it's such a small world. When I went to the cafe here, that was the first story I told them.
Now having lived in the UK for a few weeks have you noticed some similarity or differences between living in the UK and Australia?
In terms of lifestyle I think for me it’s difficult just because I'm very use to the weather in Melbourne. Everyone that I've met here always ask me 'Why did you come this time of year?' ...because it's been cold, wet and windy here every single day. The food culture is not as strong as Australia.
With your work focusing on identity and belonging does having this experience open up your scope of things/perspective?
Yeah definitely, it's like coming back to the motherland. I've actually started the research phase for my next project and it's very experienced based because while I was here I went through Australia Day and Chinese New Year which was interesting, in terms of my identity crisis it’s interesting to have both dates spent in the UK and on my own. But more so on the research side. I went to Manchester for Chinese New Year but I didn't do anything... I had meetings and Vietnamese food for dinner. It was okay! Australia day was even more interesting because I attempted to make video work on the beach and it was the most terrible weather ever. The worst weather I encountered since I came...it was so windy that I couldn't even walk to the beach.
Are you excited about meeting the other artists on the same SafARI journey?
When I heard about the other artists being involved I was so happy and felt very honoured to be a part of it. There are some artists in SafARI like Benjamin Forster, Dale Harding and Emma Hamilton that I'm really excited about.
Catch Nikki Lam for SafARI event:
3 Blackfriars St, Chippendale
12 – 6 pm, Wed- Sun
By Daffodil Zarco