Gwenessa Lam

Dominique Sirois-Rouleau
  • 2 West Hastings Street, from the series Aerials, 2007. Photo: courtesy of the artist
  • Logan Avenue, from the series Aerials, 2009. Photo: courtesy of the artist
  • Dunedin, Otago, from the series In Search of Fire, 2017. Photo: Blaine Campbell, courtesy of the artist
  • North Admiral Vacant House, from the series In Search of Fire, 2016. Photo: Blaine Campbell, courtesy of the artist
  • Chairs (Syrian Embassy, Cairo), from the series Landfall, 2012. Photo: Blaine Campbell, courtesy of the artist
  • Cluster no. 6 (Shaoxian), from the series Mongrel Histories, 2014. Photo: Blaine Campbell, courtesy of the artist
  • Jianming Tower (Study), from the series Mongrel Histories, 2014. Photo: Blaine Campbell, courtesy of the artist
  • Corner Shadow no. 2, from the series Shadows, 2010. Photo: Blaine Campbell, courtesy of the artist
  • Slit Shadow no. 2, from the series Shadows, 2010. Photo: Blaine Campbell, courtesy of the artist

Gwenessa Lam’s drawings, paintings, and videos represent spaces and objects in ways that reveal their formal potential. As such, her drawings engage us in a game of memory and observance of our daily experience of places and things. Public and private spaces, as well as common or historical objects, are combined and conflated in her black-and-white compositions. Her approach involves a continuous unfolding of form that defines the idea of the sketch and conveys the constant movement of real life.

Composed from images of houses afire found on the Web, Lam’s series In Search of Fire illustrates a document’s pictorial rupture, although the representations refer to real-life events, the outcome of which is unknown. The idea of drawing is asserted through vivid and fleeting glimpses into the urgency of life and the torpor of loss. Her lines, in either graphite or paint, capture the action with the same delicate gestures that characterize the static compositions in Aerial Drawings. Situated at the extremities of turmoil and stillness, these series share a familiarity with the notion of representation. Their pared-down motifs and false tranquillity modulate the effect of distance from and proximity to the subject.

Real and imagined worlds meld in sophisticated arrays of texture. Bold or ethereal lines, opaque or faded blacks, structure the image in a hybrid form. Like sketches, they resemble the seeds of an idea or the initial draft for some future architectural project. Many of Lam’s series, such as Mongrel Histories, Landfall, and Shadows, sketch out buildings, everyday objects, or furniture in a unique play of shadows and silhouettes. She isolates and transforms elements, bringing inert matter to life. Ephemeral by nature, shadows are both a hint and a remnant of time’s urgency, captured in a drawing.

Through her drawings, Lam subverts the social or practical implications of sites and objects, offering an alternative reading of them. Their transitory presence is intercepted and fixed within a parallel reality. Much like a sketch, Lam expresses the ineluctable impermanence of things.

Translated from the French by Jo-Anne Balcaen

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