In a time when it is increasingly difficult to distinguish truth from fiction, and when the grotesque is embellished with spectacle, what is the responsibility of the image creator? For a decade, the Toronto-based artist and historian Tong Lam has been using his lens-based work to reveal hidden evidence of state- and capital-precipitated violence—fast and slow—in a variety of contexts. In particular, his research-based visual projects explore the intersection between technology and military violence, as well as the landscape of industrial and postindustrial ruination. His most recent project focuses especially on the material evidence of Cold War mobilizations globally and their environmental and social consequences. Meanwhile, his other ongoing projects also systematically dissect China’s frantic growth amid the country’s forsaking of its socialist past.
In addition to archives and ethnography, his visual practice involves photography, cinematography, and other multimedia methods. In so doing, he also aims to bring art and scholarship into conversation. He is an associate professor of history at the University of Toronto, with research projects on infrastructure, empire and nation, and the politics of information and data. On the scholarship front, his current book-length study deploys the lens of media studies as well as science and technology studies (STS) to examine the politics and poetics of China’s special zones in the socialist and postsocialist eras.
Growing up at the margins and intersections of many worlds, he continues to journey along conceptual, disciplinary, and physical boundaries as much as traversing them in his research and visual practices. He has exhibited, presented, and published his creative and scholarly works internationally.