In/Tension with Ken Lum
“I do think art is a special domain of practice,” says acclaimed Canadian artist Ken Lum, “and it's not easy, you know?”
It’s this complex and compelling “special domain” that The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery illuminates with the bold new podcast In/Tension. Consisting of 12 thought-provoking conversations with some of the country’s leading contemporary artists, the limited-edition series is hosted by writer and editor Neil Price with curator and cultural producer Diane Gistal.
For the inaugural episode, Price welcomes Ken Lum—a renowned multimedia artist, author, and academic—to share his unique insights gleaned from nearly three decades of artmaking. Across the 38-minute exchange, the pair discuss topics including Lum’s experience living and working in the US during the Trump era, the recent solo show Death and Furniture (2023), his views on the Canadian art scene and cultural policy, and the realities of being an artist today.
“It's fun,” Lum says of his practice. “I do art because I think it’s a more fun world than most worlds. but it does require a lot of dedication, hard work, and also learning how to pick yourself up and playing the long game.”
Courtesy Ken Lum
Across his prolific career, Ken Lum has explored the topic of identity in relation to language, portraiture, and spatial politics through a variety of media— from painting and sculpture to photography and writing. Lum has an illustrious exhibition record of over three decades, including major exhibitions like Documenta 11 (2002); the Venice Biennale (1995); Sao Paolo Bienal (1998); Shanghai Biennale (2000); Carnegie Triennial (1991); Sydney Biennale (1992); Busan Biennale, Liverpool Biennial (2006); Gwangju Biennale (2008); Moscow Biennial (2011); and the Whitney Biennial (2014); to name a few.
A dual citizen of Canada and the United states, he is currently Chair of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design in Philadelphia. In addition to his artistic and academic work, Lum is an accomplishing writer and a co-founder as well as founding editor of Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art. He has published widely in journals, books, and catalogues as well as presented at many important conferences.
As if teaching, writing and artmaking was not enough, Lum has also co-curated and instigated a number of large scale exhibitions such as Shanghai Modern: 1919–1949, examining the art, culture and politics of Shanghai during the first republican period of China which proceeded the dissolution of the Qing Dynasty; Sharjah Biennial 2007: Belonging (2007), exploring themes of identity, belonging, and cultural location; and Monument Lab: A Public Art and History Project (2017), a public art project spread across the city of Philadelphia. The exhibition investigated the ways space is engaged in terms of a city’s massive landscape.
In recognition of this significant body of work, Lum has received a range of accolades: an honorary doctorate from his undergraduate alma mater, Simon Fraser University (2015); a Guggenheim Fellowship; a Hnatynshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award (2007); a Mellon Award to Monument Lab (2020); the Government of Canada Governor-General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2020); the Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2019); and the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage Award (2016). In 2017, Lum was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada and, in 2011, received an offer for a Loeb Fellowship from Harvard University, which went un-exercised.
In/Tension, produced by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, is a limited podcast series of intimate, thought-provoking and accessible conversations with emerging, mid-career, and established contemporary visual artists across Canada. In/Tension aims to shed light on the breadth of the Canadian contemporary art scene and provide a platform for diverse artistic voices to dive deep into their creative intentions and facets of their practice.
This project is supported by a Digital Now grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.