Yam Lau was born in Hong Kong, he is an artist/writer based in Toronto. He is professor of painting at York University, Toronto. Yam Lau’s creative work and research explore new expressions and qualities of space, time and image. His most recent works combine video and computer-generated animation to re-create familiar spaces in varied dimensionalities and perspectives. In addition to his new media work, he is actively involved in local art community. Certain aspects of his practice, such as using a donkey as an on-going mobile project space in Beijing, China are designed to solicit community participation. The recipient of numerous awards from the Canada, Ontario and Toronto Arts Councils, Lau has exhibited widely across Canada, the US and Europe. He also publishes regularly on art and design.
The project is inspired by the tactics and behaviour of many street vendors in China, mostly migrants, who try to make a living through the use of placards to draw attention. Lau’s project is both a poetic and parodic spin on the visual, behavioural, and economical aspects of this ubiquitous urban activity. This project has two related parts. Part 1, the artist designed a series of placards derived from the blank speech bubbles in comic books. In total, there will be about ten different speech bubbles, each one a slightly different design and size. The majority of the speech bubbles will be painted in solid white while a couple will have reflective, mirror- like surfaces. These blank placards will be mounted on a tall stick and handled by both vendors and volunteers. Part 2, the artist designed ten identical speech bubbles that are scaled down "models" of the larger versions mounted as placards. These smaller ones are roughly the size of Mao pins that were common in the 60’s. In exhibiting site, invited vendor/volunteer will handle one large blank speech placard but will wear all the ten scaled version pins on the front of their shirt or jacket, forming a graphic pattern. The small ones are the merchandise that they will actually try to sell to passerby. The idea is to have the placard announcing "nothing", or an empty thought as the item for sale. The vendors are also selling scaled version of "nothing", or an empty thought in the form of pins. In this case, the sign announcing the item for sale (placard) is indexical to the item (pin). The one is collapsed or "emptied" out onto the other to generate a chain of referential loop of "nothingness". This humorously plays on the Buddhist and Taoist idea of nothingness as an empty chain of references that could be commodified. The vendors/volunteers can either function individually or as a group. Their position and formation can be casual or choreographed. The blank placards, signifying nothing, will be seen as cloud formations above the vendors/volunteers within the urban fabric.
Yam Lau, Drifting Clouds of Empty Thoughts, interactive intervention project, 2016