C Magazine

Histories and Setups: Interview with Life of a Craphead

I met up with Amy Lam and Jon McCurley for a casse-croûte breakfast at Canada Hot Dog in Montreal's Rosemont neighbourhood following the opening of their exhibition Entertaining Every Second at Centre Clark and a few weeks before the unveiling of their two-part billboard project $100 Bill With South Asian Scientist Added Back In (2019) with Dazibao. Having rarely shown or performed in Montreal, Lam and McCurley arrived with an exhibition tuned to a fine pitch, following presentations in Calgary at Truck Gallery and in Saskatoon at AKA artist-run. Addressing Western imperialism in Asia—Vietnam in particular—and systemic anti-Asian racism within the Canadian art milieu, the exhibition at Centre Clark marks a turning point in their more-than-a-decade-long practice, notably occupied by the long production period for their feature film, Bugs (2015), made in parallel with their performance art show and online broadcast Doored (2012–2017). Understandably, after touring the exhibition this past year, Lam and McCurley shared questions of their own on the methods behind their practice.

Compared to research-based or documentary practices in artmaking that look for oblique angles into the archive or suggest neat speculative histories, Life of a Craphead’s work is rigorous memory work. This is memorial work, the painful and vulnerable work of research set on personal and collective trauma with a close watch on the violence behind it. It’s accompanied by straightforward titles: Find the US Soldier Who Killed Your Grandma (2018), Making Something Positive out of Chris Cran’s Painting ‘Self-Portrait with Combat Nymphos of Saigon’ (1985) (ongoing), Angry Edit (2018) or The Quiet American but Only the Parts Where the White Man Main Character Tells the Asian Woman to Do Stuff for Him (2018). Each title plays the setup to—but not, to my mind—an assurance of a laugh to follow. Instead, they

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