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Everything is relevant to Ken Lum; Vancouver artist talks about the importance of staying curious

“Everything is Relevant” cover (John Ackermann/NEWS 1130 photo)

This week #1130bookshelf speaks with artist Ken Lum about his new book, Everything is Relevant

Lum is arguably one of Canada's most important contemporary artists

Lum's public art pieces include the Monument for East Vancouver, colloquially known at the East Van Cross

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – He is a visual artist of international renown, born and raised here in Vancouver, Strathcona to be exact.

But, if you don’t know Ken Lum’s name, chances are you know his work. That work and the thinking behind it is the subject of his new book, Everything is Relevant, Writings on Art and Life, 1991-2018.

LISTEN: Everything is Relevant

You could say Lum is on something of a roll these days. Besides the book, he’s just been named a recipient of a 2020 Governor General Visual and Media Arts Award, something that came as a complete surprise.

“It’s always an honour and, of course, I’m happy about it.  It’s better to receive one than not to receive one,” he says.”But I also felt a little bit old to be honest because, generally, people who are at a certain stage get it so I guess I’m at that stage!”

Perhaps his most famous public art piece is the Monument for East Vancouver, colloquially known at the East Van Cross, located at the corner of Clark Drive and 6th Avenue. Lum calls it his best example of showing the paradox between not only east and west, but rich and poor, and have and have not.

The Monument for East Vancouver aka the East Van Cross (John Ackermann/NEWS 1130)

“It’s not a work that pricks at things in a kind of annoying way, it’s a work that somehow embodies all those issues,” he says. “And it’s because of the work that there’s been so much dialogue, ongoing dialogue about what sort of city do we want Vancouver to be and so on.”

It’s also an example of what Lum has spent his whole working life doing:  pushing back at dominant narratives. “There’s always a dominant narrative. There’s a dominant narrative to Canada,” he explains. “We love nature, there’s lots of land, it was created by people tilling the soil.  And it’s not that those things aren’t true, but they’re not true to the extent that we like to believe they are.

Lum hopes readers take the message of the book to heart.  “I’m infinitely curious about knowing more about the world, even at this point of my life,” he admits.

“And so, I’d like the book to serve as a kind of testament to my own constitution but also as a kind of request of others to keep your eyes open, stay super curious, and don’t prejudge the world too quickly.”

Look for Everything is Relevant from UBC Press.