The Real and How to Find It – An Interview with Ken Lum by Rosemary Heather

RH: Why is the Real so popular as a genre, though?

KL: Why is the Real so popular?

RH: In art, on TV, in popular culture…

KL: I have a theory on that. Our culture that has moved towards a fetish of the everyday, a fetish of drawing attention to yourself as an individual. It’s a trend towards an ultra narcissism, and the emphasis on the individual comes at the exclusion of being able to formulate a critique on a societal level, because it’s only about the individual, and that’s a problem.

I highlight the above quote from my 2011 interview with Ken Lum, because it so accurately identifies a contributing factor of the insurgent politics of the West in 2017 (Trump; Brexit). As if to underline this point, Lum’s analysis of the “fetish of the individual” is also the essential argument Adam Curtis makes in Hypernormalization, his 2016 BBC documentary. The interview is now available for purchase as an ebook on Amazon for .99 cents (click on the link below). The publication also includes, To Say or Not to Say, an essay Lum wrote in 2008 that we discuss in the interview. Both interview and essay showcase the incredible trenchancy of Lum’s thought, and his ability to translate his thinking into artworks – as relevant today as ever.

The Lum publication is part of a larger project, which either repackages existing interviews I have done as ebooks, or releases new interviews – by myself and others – all under the imprint, Q&A. A short blog post I wrote about the thinking that informs the Q&A project can be read here: How to Make a Magazine in 2015. Its a statement of purpose that attempts to think through the changed conditions of publishing in the 21st century – ideas I hope to expand on in the coming months.

Rosemary Heather


Kristan Horton, Dr Strangelove Dr Strangelove

Kristan Horton, Dr. Strangelove
Kristan Horton, Dr Strangelove Dr Strangelove, giclee prints, 27.9 x 76.2 cm Series of 200 photos (2003-2006)
The most curious aspect of Kristan Horton’s Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is the number of times the artist claims to have seen Kubrick’s movie: by his count, over 800. The figure is excessive, to the point that you are tempted to doubt it. I have probably seen the Reese Witherspoon comedy, Legally Blonde, 10 times. That’s an estimate, and it was partly for practical reasons: laziness and a dearth of home entertainment options. In Horton’s case, the number of viewings may suggest fandom shading into fanaticism, or even something less comprehensible than that, but it is also simply in keeping with the conceptual rigor of his project.

A student of the film, Horton has been engaged in an ongoing process of reconstructing it. In each of the works 200 diptychs, a still from the movie is mirrored by its hand fabricated facsimile. For each one, the artist begins by making compositions that break down the volumes of light and shadow in the Kubrick original. Working with objects close to hand in his apartment, the wit of the enterprise comes with his choices of substitutions: a fork for an airplane fuselage, a tight close-up on a scoop of vanilla ice cream for clouds, a plastic bag for the sky. The net effect splits the difference between Horton’s artistic ingenuity and his humbling of the British filmmaker’s cinematic artistry into a mere series of constructions. Pursuing this line of enquiry helps to place Horton’s work within a larger trend that sees artists using the hand-made as a way to puncture the spell of illusionism. Considering that much of contemporary life is undergoing a process of fusion with the virtual world, it is a reassuring development, one that proves art’s relevance as a corrective to tendencies in the wider culture.

By Rosemary Heather

This text originally appeared in Flash Art, October 2007
Kristan Horton is represented by Jessica Bradely Art+Projects, Toronto.

Cathy Busby/Garry Neill Kennedy

Cathy Busby, NEW!, 2006 Latex and oil on canvas, 4/8 30.6 x 40.5 cm
Signs Taken for Wonders is the title of a book of literary criticism by Franco Moretti, but it also serves as a good description of what unites the practices of Cathy Busby and Garry Neill Kennedy. Both artists combine found objects with abstraction, working to expose the socio-political content of cultural forms. The methods they use are at complementary cross-purposes: Busby strives to elevate ephemeral materials to the status of art, while Kennedy contrives to contaminate the histories of minimalism and abstraction with news of the everyday.