Melly Shum Hates Her Job (1990) Ken Lum

Otto Snoek
About the artwork

On the facade of Witte de With art center, the smiling face of Melly Shum is a familiar part of the street scene. Since 1990, the Ken Lum billboard has been hanging on the side wall. It is an unprecedentedly long exposure for a billboard. The combination of language and image plays a major role in much of Ken Lum's work. Halfway through the 80, Lum became known for 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 man? Ken Lum does not advertise, but his billboard does contain a 'message'. He provides insight into the codes of advertising. 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, which makes us feel attracted by the direct language. But is this lady Melly Shum? Is Melly Shum an existing person? Because there is no telephone number, website, price or product on the board, only the contradiction between image and text remains. Unlike advertising, this artwork does not provide answers, but it only raises questions. In 1990, Ken Lum had a large 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 it was decided in consultation with Witte de With to include the work in the International Sculpture Collection. The work remains the property of the artist and has been given on loan 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 80 years on are based on the forms and fonts of the advertising, of which he makes illegible works in a non-existent language, in which form and color determine. He has received various prizes for his work.

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