Arts & Culture

Richmond Art Gallery presents "A Small but Comfy House"

By Richmond Sentinel

Published 11:15 PDT, Tue March 21, 2023

Last Updated: 3:38 PDT, Mon April 17, 2023

Richmond Art Gallery (RAG), in partnership with the Richmond Public Library, presents A Small but Comfy House and Maybe a Dog from April 22 to June 11, 2023. Guest curated by Su-Ying Lee, the exhibition is Amy Ching-Yan Lam's first major solo show and features sculptures made in collaboration with HaeAhn Woo Kwon, in addition to objects from the collections of the gallery and the neighbouring Richmond Public Library.

"The title of this exhibition comes from an essay that Amy Ching-Yan Lam wrote to her future self at the age of 11, speculating that by the age of 25 she'd be married, have a career, and 'a small but comfy house and maybe a dog,'" says Lee. "Starting from these childhood fantasies of domestic love and financial stability, Lam presents artworks that explore how these dreams have been indirectly influenced by the wider trajectory of colonial history. With humour and acuity, she examines the complicated relationships between institutional collections and power, property and theft, and history and family." 

The exhibition draws inspiration from two main sources: the first is the true story of Looty, a Pekingese dog taken from China's Summer Palace by British troops at the end of the Second Opium War. Lam fictionalizes Looty's life as a royal pet to the queen in a book and animated video. Further drawing on this theme of domestication is a new series of sculptures created by Lam in collaboration with Kwon, in which the pair remake toys and found objects to create a fantasy communal home. Akin to both condo display models and Polly Pocket toys, the resulting artworks are small-scale living spaces fashioned inside of spaces like teapots and gourds. 

The second major inspiration is Richmond itself. Lam looked to the gallery and library as examples of institutional collections and how they are formed. She was particularly inspired by the Dr. Lee Collection at the Richmond Public Library. The Special Collection on Chinese Culture has been described as a "national treasure" by antiquities experts, and includes rare Chinese-language art books that have been amassed by Dr. Lee over his lifetime. The gallery and library, in conversation with Lam, curated a selection of items that will be on view in the exhibition. Among the pieces will be a series of ceramics depicting different animals from the Chinese zodiac, in reference to how similar animal depictions were featured in the Summer Palace. In turn, the gallery will have a temporary lending program of artworks from their collection.

Dr. Lee was also passionate about feng shui. In response to his dedication to the practice, and in the context of the city's many new luxury condominiums—currently being built across the street from the gallery—Lam invited renowned feng shui expert Sherman Tai to better improve the flow of the exhibition. Tai's recommendation that a water feature was needed in the space resulted in a new fountain sculpture.

Though based in Toronto today, Lam temporarily lived in Vancouver when she first immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong with her family in 1989. The exhibition weaves together the ongoing histories of her past and present homes, highlighting at every step how the two are inextricable. 

Visit to learn more about the exhibition. 

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