Making Meaning: A Conversation with Artist Quynh Lam
Quynh Lam’s exhibition, “I Am Not a Spy”, is a presentation of surveillance and sublimation. The surveillance is obvious. The original performance was recorded on four night-vision CCTV surveillance cameras, each recording appearing simultaneously in a separate quadrant of a single channel for the audience to watch on a monitor, while locked out of the gallery, in addition to their being able to peer through the gallery’s street-side windows. Each of the cameras was placed in different corners, exacerbating the dread of the ubiquitous panopticon. Quynh Lam performs in the video as “a prisoner of her own”. We do not see anyone lock her in or stand guard. She searches the room briefly, feeling its black walls and searching for seams. She moves to the back wall, opposite the audience on the street, and writes “I am not a spy” across it. We, too, are now apprised of the charge against her and are witness to her sublimating defiance. She writes this sentence—sometimes in chalk, sometimes in paint—hundreds and hundreds of times on every available surface. Yet she is in charge, despite the repetition and ensuing tediousness. Close to the end, she starts to smear hand-size smudges through whole swaths of sentences, as if saying that even her means of subverting her imprisonment cannot be co-opted by her captor: Watch me as I erase my testimony. The video concludes with her stopping and slouching, surrounded on all sides by the same sentence in white letters against an abyss of unyielding blackness, and then slumping to the ground exhausted. She lies down in each of the quadrants in turn, only seconds apart. She has edited the raw, four-channel footage (3-hour duration) into a new shorter version (4 minutes 44 seconds), also titled “I Am Not a Spy”, and it is currently part of a show, Unlearning, at Richard Koh Fine Art in Singapore.