Artist Lap-See Lam challenges notions of identity and belonging with provocative installations. Her Swedish home and Cantonese heritage offer no shortage of inspiration.
Sweden’s Chinese restaurants are a recurring theme in your work. Why are they such a compelling subject?
My parents and grandmother owned a restaurant in Stockholm called Bamboo Garden until about three years ago. I’ve always had contradictory feelings towards it. Chinese restaurants are a global phenomenon in the way that they’re packaged, they way they sell products, and their demographic style. Swedish-Chinese food is different from American Chinese food, for example. But my family worked there for 30 years, so my feelings towards the restaurant were a starting point. I began to think of it as material to work with.
What was the contradiction?
My siblings and I learned that the restaurant is a place to be proud of. We were always taught that it creates opportunities for my generation and economic safety for my family—but we were never supposed to take over the business. That would be a failure. We were expected to become something bigger and better.
And how did those feelings translate to works?
It made me think a lot about space. I’m interested in how space always has an inside and outside, and what makes a space is who’s inside and who’s outside. With Bamboo Garden, I was both.
But the restaurant, itself, is displaced. The Chinese restaurant only occurs outside of China. It’s a fetishized image of Asia. I’m really fascinated by this room of displacement, and issues surrounding resilience, cultural hegemony and identity. Art is a way of creating a framework for my thoughts and resting them in pieces or projects.
Color plays a substantial role in establishing a mood in your artwork. What role does color play in Scandinavian style?
I don’t know why, but you see a lot of black, white and gray in the city center. Styles outside the city are totally different.
How would you define contemporary Scandinavian style?
Very clean, functional and minimalistic. That’s the general image of Scandinavian style, but it’s starting to change. I worked as a stylist assistant before art school and was very interested in fashion, but I’ve stopped keeping track of what’s in! Now I follow fashion through streams of music and Instagram. If you look at the punk band Dolores Haze, they have a very playful sense of style. Or designer Nhu Duong, who works more like an artist than a designer in the traditional sense. There’s more than one Scandinavian aesthetic.
What do you miss most about Sweden now that you’re in Athens?
I miss my parents’ home-cooked food.
This post is produced in partnership with Skandiastyle.
Words:MacKenzie Lewis Kassab