Permanency of Transition in the Art of Nikki Lam
By Elena Dolcini, 2013
‘Movement always relates to a change, migration to a seasonal variation’
— The Movement-Image by Gilles Deleuze
The meaning of transformation is to be found in transformation itself. Action defines movement, transition brings development, and in so doing, the mutable becomes a (non) category in its own right, which needs to be neither compared nor opposed to what mutable is not.
The perpetual doesn’t (anymore) represent a category of thinking, and as for a paradox it’s change that becomes endless and constantly produces movement and action. The reason of this lies in what we can call a structural impossibility; no immutable thing can be really thought by our brain, which is rather engaged in unravelling concepts and images in progress.
Here I want to describe an artist who places movement at the heart of her practice; transformation does appear the conditio sine qua non her way of looking at the world, the central focus around which she has been weaving visual narratives. The phrase way of looking does not come as a coincidence when talking about Nikki Lam; I would argue in fact that her art can be defined as a semantics of gazing.
Lam is an artist based in Melbourne; just graduated from the University of Melbourne, she has been successfully distinguishing herself amongst Australia-based young artists. Lam has been extensively exhibiting in Australia, and from March 2014 her work will be visible in occasion of SafARI, which is one of Sidney Biennale unofficial collateral events.
Gaze, transformation, and movement together introduce the art of Nikki Lam; let’s expand these words and the concepts underneath them to describe a practice that doesn’t contemplate stability, nor immovable positions or fixed places.
Art is all about gazing. Although artistic practices observe reality from heterogeneous angles and are seen by beholders through different perspectives, to some extents they all dialogically question the supremacy of sight above the other senses.
Nikki Lam dwells in and eventually develops the idea of gazing; she challenges the way we ordinarily look at things and, above all, at ourselves, by addressing questions of identity. Her video installations are thought-provoking instruments, which aim to make us focus on our self-perception.
Lam is interested in finding a visual and never still definition of our identity. Her art seems to suggest that a sort of social agreement allows and frames individual awareness; I am you as you are me, in a mutual dependency, you see me as I see you.
Despite such a mutuality of vision, which can be argued as either utopian or dystopian, Lam’s art states clearly the impossibility of looking at things from the same level. It points out that there is a hiatus between what we see and what somebody else sees when looking us, an open wound between how we perceive ourselves and how we actually are.
To reach such an individual awareness Lam uses a language tangibly close to our everyday experience; hers are existentialist words used to overcome a loss, to make up with one’s self after a failed expectation. They all tell us about a departure from the origin. Lam films scenes that, instead of making us mourn our lack of total control, rather encourage us to welcome a humanity of intriguing imperfection.
Often Liam’s videos stage transforming sets; subject, background, aesthetical repertoire all concur to state the inevitable movement, the tireless act of moving, flowing from a place to another, as living a life out of a suitcase.
In so doing, the artist questions the idea of belonging and possession too; in such a continuous personal, natural, social and cognitive transformation, would it be possible to own anything, to belong somewhere precise?
Movement forces us to dwell in a liminal territory that Lam doesn’t want to define; she rather prefers beholders to interpret it through their personal lenses. It’s a place waiting to be described.
Unexpectedly viewers are all but unsettled by such a void of answer; they feel at ease, peaceful, and safe, as Lam’s visual expedients are comforting words of aesthetical precision, and professional care. They are therapeutic remedies supplied by a skilled artist.
Lam’s artistic expression is in fact already an answer; it is immanent, intelligible, and self-evident. Her practice is clean, untangled, courteous. It is neither baroque nor aggressive, but rather patient, discrete, and mannerist in its etymological sense, which recalls the art of doing something with manner, in an elegant way. The viewer feels comforted, as Lam’s art is itself a hospital place to indulge in.
Often the artist shows us a natural or urban landscape seen by the unexploited eyes of a non-native viewer; as a sui generis local, she curiously approaches details with heuristic naivety. Colour-wise she has a quite integrated modus operandi; any filmed material explores the connection between various nuances, expanding the viewers’ attention to the overall picture. There is no opposition; no dramatic dichotomy or contrast characterizes her work, which rather reminds us of interaction and contamination.
Lam doesn’t have a fixed repertoire, and her colours change as they are mutable expressions of ourselves. Transformation wholly embraces her art and romanticises a life that is peripatetic, inquisitive and never self-sufficient. A life willing to mirror itself into somebody else’s experience.
Elena Dolcini's Website Here
Permanency of Transition in the Art of Nikki Lam