Melly Shum Hates Her Job (1990) Ken Lum

Otto Snoek
About the artwork

On the facade of the Witte de With art center, Melly Shum's smiling face is a familiar part of the street scene. Ken Lum's billboard has been hanging on the side wall since 1990. It is an unprecedented long exposure for a billboard. The combination of language and image plays a major role in much of Ken Lum's work. In the mid-80s Lum became known for his work in which he combined portraits with abstract logos and text. Placed side by side, the fake logos had a special effect on the portrait photos. The people in the photo were no longer individuals but representatives of a brand. The work asks questions about identity. To what extent do brands determine the identity of modern people? Ken Lum doesn't advertise, but his billboard does contain a 'message'. He makes the codes of advertising transparent. By using the stereotypical design of advertising, he shows how ingrained our viewing habits are. We automatically make a connection between the text 'Melly Shum hates her job'and the image, through which we feel addressed by the direct language. But is this lady Melly Shum? Is Melly Shum an Existing Person? Since no phone number, website, price or product is listed on the sign, only the contradiction between image and text remains. Unlike advertising, this work of art does not provide answers, it merely raises questions. In 1990 Ken Lum had a major solo exhibition at the Witte de With art center. Since then, the billboard has been hanging on the side wall of the building. Over the years it has been replaced several times by a new one. At the end of 2007, in consultation with Witte de With, it was decided to include the work in the International Sculpture Collection. The work remains the property of the artist and has been loaned to Witte de With. For more information: Sculpture International Rotterdam.

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About the artist

Kenneth Robert Lum (Vancouver, Canada - 1956) works with painting, sculpture and photography on a conceptual oeuvre that often deals with issues of identity in relation to language, portraiture and spatial politics. His language paintings from the 80s are based on the shapes and fonts of advertising, from which he makes illegible works in a non-existent language, in which shape and color are decisive. He has received several awards for his work.

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