People @ Goddard
H. Lan Thao Lam
Residency Sites: Plainfield, VT
As an artist working with conceptualizations of history, I am committed to giving form to alternative histories, whether emerging from North America or Asia. I bring attention to detail, sensitivity to materials, and rigorous research methods to each of my projects. I take my cues from a particular site, historical incident, or political issues, and create a project in the medium most appropriate to its context. This has led me to render sculptural forms, full-scale multi-media installations, 16mm film and video, photography, performance and interventions.
Over the last ten years, I have engaged with anthropology and post-colonial studies in the investigation of social hierarchies and power relations. My projects assess history, art and media’s potential for truth-telling and manipulation. Taking conventional viewership to task by using strategies which are related to but do not assume traditional forms of documentary, agit-prop or community-based projects, my work takes up a pedagogic challenge. It asks viewers not to take information for granted, but to question the motives behind how representational choices are made. For me, ethics and aesthetics are always intertwined: political and ethical positions are conveyed, for instance, in how an image is framed or the effect of continuous or fractured time upon the viewer. I do not seek to speak for the subjects of my critical ethnographic practice, but to speak nearby, in the words of filmmaker & post-colonial theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha.
As an educator, I strive to foster an environment where boundaries and definitions can be questioned, pushed, or erased, where students can experiment with how to communicate their changing positions in relation to their times and surroundings. My sensitivity to the inflections that each artist brings to their work invites students to dive into and explore their physical, intellectual, emotional, and creative terrains. The dialogues we share with each other, and with the process of art making, prepares these emerging artists to be self-critical, to be able to articulate what their practice consists of, and to take responsibility for how they represent the crucial issues affecting their lives.
My recent project, Unisex, was a commissioned public art project aiming to map the diverse population of Corona, Queens in New York City as expressed through the voices and daily activities of neighborhood barbers, stylists, and clients. Returning to my former self as a hairstylist, I offered free haircuts at street fairs as a means of connecting with the community. Interactions between the artists and the people of Corona were documented in videos that played at local salons and shops, and the narration for the videos was drawn from interviews highlighting the history of hair grooming as it evolved through socio-economic shifts in the area.
MFA in Visual Arts, California Institute of the Arts; AOCA with honors in Sculpture/Installation, Ontario College of Art.