Lap-See Lam: Tales of the Altersea

Lap-See Lam: Tales of the Altersea


Lap-See Lam, Tales of the Altersea, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm/Berlin/Mexico City.


February 2, 2023
Lap-See Lam
Tales of the Altersea
March 11–May 28, 2023
Press preview: March 9, 9:30am
Opening: March 10, 6pm
Alte Brücke 2 / Maininsel
60594 Frankfurt am Main
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 12–7pm,
Saturday–Sunday 11am–7pm

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Portikus presents Lap-See Lam’s exhibition Tales of the Altersea, in which the artist addresses the cultural transformation of the Hong Kong Chinese diaspora in Europe.

In the 2010s when many Chinese restaurants in Sweden were forced to close or change ownership, including the one run by Lap-See Lam’s parents, the artist set out to 3D scan as many of them as possible to preserve their histories. Resulting in an expanded archive, these glitchy reproductions have since defined her visual vocabulary. Spanning from sculptures to videos, Lam’s works decode the ambiguous connotation of chinoiserie and address the cultural transformation of the Hong Kong Chinese diaspora in Europe. Tales of the Altersea continues the artist’s reflection on the conflicting ideas between cultural affinity and disidentification.

Starting point for the exhibition is the singular story of the Sea Palace, a three-storey floating restaurant in the shape of a dragon that sailed from Shanghai to Europe in the early 1990s. After a series of unsuccessful ventures, the ship docked in the waters of Stockholm, finding a new purpose as a haunted house in the Gröna Lund amusement park. The restaurant’s history and its emblematic Chinese décor inform Lam’s imagery and serve as a reference for a new group of works that extend from the exterior to the interior of Portikus. 

At the heart of Tales of the Altersea is the eponymous 8-channel video installation projected onto the walls and floors of the gallery, giving the sense of being inside a magic lantern. As with previous works by Lam, the phantom-like aesthetic of the piece draws from the visual language of shadow puppetry, a traditional form of storytelling that is closely linked to Chinese folklore, which reached Europe through imperialistic trade relations. The play revolves around the underwater journey of two twin sisters and their encounters with a series of characters that are either linked to or inspired by Cantonese mythology and history. Much as shadow plays were once accompanied by songs, the music and soundscape by composers Linus Hillborg and Marlena Salonen, with vocals by Bruno Hibombo, draws the viewer further into Lam’s poetics. 

By employing the narrative strategies of magical realism, the artist interweaves complex mythologies with transnational experiences to both claim ownership of and to complicate the idea of cultural heritage. Blending old and contemporary techniques, Tales of the Altersea speaks to the different meanings of ‘generation loss’. On the one hand, referring to what is lost in translation between different media and, on the other hand, to what knowledge is not passed on from one generation to the next, one culture to another. 

Lap-See Lam (b. 1990 in Stockholm, Sweden) is an artist based in Stockholm, Sweden. Recent solo exhibitions include Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2022); Trondheim Kunstmuseum (2021); Moderna Museet Malmö (2018–2019). Her work has been shown in group exhibitions at KINDL—Centre for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2022); GHOST 2565, Bangkok (2022); PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv (2021); Performa 19, New York (2019). 

Tales of the Altersea is initiated by Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, curated by Liberty Adrien and Carina Bukuts. A future iteration at Swiss Institute, New York, will be presented from May to August 2023. A joint public program will be organized by both institutions. An accompanying artist publication will be published by Portikus.

The exhibition is made possible by major support from Hessisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst and the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung. Generous support is provided by the Adolf und Luisa Haeuser-Stiftung für Kunst und Kulturpflege. Additional support is provided by the Swedish Arts Grants Committee, Eidotech, and Städelschule Portikus e.V.. Portikus gratefully acknowledges the support of Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm/Berlin/Mexico City, and Kulturamt der Stadt Frankfurt am Main.


Director: Yasmil Raymond
Curators: Liberty Adrien and Carina Bukuts 

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February 2, 2023

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