r e s e a r c h   +   v i s u a l   a r t s

A multimedia project in collaboration with historian Tina Chen and filmmaker Thomas Lahusen. The research-based visual project examines the historical and contemporary significance of film projection in rural China. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the project will deliver a documentary film, visual essays and exhibitions, as well as research articles.

Copyright Tong Lam . All rights reserved. 

The temporality of urban change as experienced by the individual is at once fast-paced and slow-moving. Standing still at times and moving ceaselessly at other times, the numerous construction cranes that dot the post-unification Berlin skyline seems to exemplify precisely that paradox. Indeed, more than anywhere else, the construction cranes along the former Berlin Wall convey powerful stories of destruction and rebirth. As such, these cranes carry more than just construction materials, but also the weight of history. As for the historian, the absence and emptiness inhabited by these machines also invokes a profound sense of loss, responsibility, and burden. This video installation is therefore a meditation on time, disappearance, anticipation, and the transformation of the city.   

In China, progress is often synonymous with a particular vision of urban development. An evidence of this is the prevalence of urban billboards and hoardings that promise an utopian future with spectacular skyscrapers and happy citizens. Yet, this desire of having a harmonic and dreamlike future collides constantly with the conditions of precarity that have become a common sight in China and elsewhere.    
     In the city of Guangzhou, the precarity of life is epitomized in the surreal landscape of Xiancun, an urban village inside the Central Business District. As a legacy of socialist collectivization of rural lands, urban villages are collectively owned enclaves engulfed and progressively erased by the hyper-expansion of China’s megacities. Caught up in the politics of urban renewal, the urban slum encountered here is left in a suspended state of destruction.
     Blending documentary and conceptual photographic practices, this project uses light box displays to advertise the unreal estate of Xiancun’s dystopic present, exposing the foreclosed future of the urban poor, especially migrant workers. By casting light literally on the city’s spatial ruptures, these images suggest that in societies where state-sanctioned facts are inseparable from spectacle, conspicuously constructed fictional images may in the end come closer to the truth.

Abandoned Futures (2013)

An ongoing interrogation of contemporary China's hysterical transformation. Selected images from this series are featured in photo essays for various media outlets and the China Blog of The Los Angeles Review of Books.  Another multimedia project under this category is called PRECARIOUS LIVING.

T O N G   L A M

UNREAL ESTATE  (ongoing)

A visual ethnography of the wastes and wreckages of our civilization. In particular, this ongoing project uses images of abandoned amusement parks, derelict industrial facilities, car junkyards, airplane boneyards, decommissioned military facilitates, dilapidated churches, and other neglected industrial and postindustrial ruins and wastelands to explore the tension between political and ecological times.

(HD Video ( 14:04 minutes )

Filmed around the construction sites o
f the Berlin Palace/Humboldt Forum and the U5 (Berlin U-Bahn) extension between November 2013 and February 2015.

Music composed by Aran Browning based on original video recordings.