Dan Lam on Her Drippy, Otherworldly Sculptures

By Jelena Martinovic on February 16, 2019

Polymorphous and multitextural, Dan Lam’s sculptures arouse all the senses. Working with polyurethane foam, acrylic paint and resin, she creates dripping and oozing sculptures which, as she explains, exist somewhere between beautiful and ugly.

Characterized by neon hues, curvaceous anatomy and a skin of spikes, Lam's works evoke an exotic organic matter that could come from another planet. Approaching aesthetics through many different lenses, the artist creates visual metaphors that invite a deeper perspective on body politics and the way we present ourselves to others. As the nature of the material she works with is unpredictable, a lot of her process involves both guiding it and relinquishing control to it.

Lam divides these otherworldly sculptures into blobs, rounded forms that are mounted onto walls, squishes, which are freestanding, and drips, which hang over various surfaces. Appearing alive and organic and having an element of the unknown, these seductive objects beg to be touched, creating an interesting relationship between the viewer and art. Recently, the artist has been covering her pieces with Swarovski crystals, exploring the idea of excess and decadency.

PRØHBTD spoke with Lam about her strong and unique voice, the organic quality to her work, the contrasting concepts she articulates, the experience of working with an untraditional material and much more.

Your sculptural pieces are a reflection of a strong and unique voice. How have you arrived at creating these amorphous, soft shapes?

In graduate school I began working with polyurethane foam and playing with ideas of beauty and ugliness. After I graduated, I continued pushing the medium and learning all I could with it by experimentation. The process informed my ideas and I found myself continuously drawn to pairing “opposing” concepts like organic/inorganic, hard/soft, attraction/repulsion, manifesting them in the work.

These oozing sculptures have a certain organic quality to them, appearing almost alive. How does your work relate to nature and physicality?

I definitely look to nature to inform how I make my sculptures. I purposefully try to stay away from any direct imagery because I’m not trying to recreate anything. Instead, I look at how things have formed over time, how things grow, how living things communicate and evolve with one another. I take this and apply to it my process, which allows for these inorganic objects to take on life.

You've described your work as living between beautiful and ugly. Could you tell us more about this contrasting concept of attraction and repulsion?

Working with these ideas really came from questioning my own aesthetics and what role beauty plays in my work. Rather than accept my initial reaction to what I see, I began questioning why I was drawn to certain things and not others. One conclusion I came to was that while those are opposing ideas, they need each other to exist, so is it a contrast or a balance? I think that in-between space is very interesting and has a lot of room for exploration and interpretation.

Your sculptures are very engaging and people often have a strong desire to interact with them. What kind of dimension do you think this adds to your work?

I love that my work engages people on a more visceral level. I feel like it hits on something instinctive. People are so used to not touching art so to see that fourth wall, so to speak, be broken is exciting. Seeing their curiosity piqued and the desire to explore with more than their eyes really inspired me to think bigger and push what my materials and ideas can do.

The medium you work with is very untraditional. Tell us something about the experience of working with polyurethane foam and how it has changed over time.

The reason I enjoy working with the foam so much is because it’s not a material you can control in a precise way, like paint. Even though I’ve learned a lot about it and what it can do, it continues to hold my interest because of that uncontrollability.

Could you tell us more about your working process? How do you find the balance between unpredictability and control?

My process definitely embraces both aspects. My sculptures are basically layers and layers of material, so I find I can let go at certain stages and at other stages I can let my obsessive side take over. It keeps things fresh and interesting and leaves room for play, which is super important for me.

Besides texture, color is an important aspect of your work. How do you conceive your color palettes and what are you trying to convey through them?

I use color as a means of conveying my ideas. I love color theory and often implement those concepts into my work. I play with complementary palettes, which reinforces the opposing ideas I work with. Nature plays a role in my color choices occasionally too. For example, I’ll look at warning coloration—also known as aposematism— in animals and apply that to certain pieces as a means of repelling. I also look at confectionery and use those really appealing sweet colors.

How do you think your work has evolved over time?

I think my work has evolved quite a bit over time as I understand the materials I work with better. When I discover something new while making a sculpture, I take that discovery and execute it in the next piece and so on. This allows my work to develop a strong and distinct voice, but also grow. When I started making work in school, I saw my work as a means of communicating, but the person I was having a dialogue with—the viewer—wasn’t forefront in my mind. As time has gone on, I see how people are affected by and how they interact with my work. Because of this, it has become more of a focal point for me. I now play with the viewer more directly by inviting them to interact.

Your Instagram account has an impressive following, and you often share your process online. How do you see the role of social media in the world of contemporary art?

Social media makes a huge impact on the contemporary art world, from consuming more images to the relationship between viewer/artist/gallery, to seeing trends and moments happen in real time. As an artist, I think it allows me more power and opens more doors than the old school methods used to.

Which artists have inspired your work along the way, and whose work do you appreciate now?

There are so many! To name a few, in terms of how I see art, James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson. In terms of materials and concepts, Eva HesseTara DonovanJanine Antoni and Lynda Benglis. I still appreciate these artists and look to them often.

What’s next for you?

In May I have a solo show in New York with the Hashimoto Gallery and a few large scale installations sprinkled into 2019. I’m also hoping to do another residency in the next year!

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