Amy Lam, Make-Believe Bathroom. Platform documentation, 2020. Courtesy the artist; Amy Lam, Make-Believe Bathroom (production still), 2020. Photo: Karina Irvine.

Amy Lam: Make-Believe Bathroom

September 15 – December 3, 2020
sfu.ca/makebelievebathroom

With Make-Believe Bathroom, Amy Lam creates a virtual space that provides an opportunity for escape or anonymous exchange, acknowledging the many ways in which the private and the public touch. In her artistic practice, Lam works within various modes of community to examine present political conditions. Her work often invokes humour to support constructive discourses that challenge imperialist systems and connect complex, often underrecognized, narratives to a broader public.

Bathrooms are places of retreat and unsanctioned sociality, especially within institutional spaces. Inspired by her own experiences in academia and at various workplaces, Lam addresses the need for semi-seclusion and anonymity, and how these contingencies can enable other kinds of relation to develop. Make-Believe Bathroom is a website that functions as an idealized place where one can go for a short break during online classes or lectures, work hours, or family gatherings on Zoom.  Modeled after the actual campus bathroom near SFU Gallery in Burnaby, users of Make-Believe Bathroom can talk to people in stalls next to them, check a phone, view graffiti, leave a message for others, and flush the toilet. Some queueing may be necessary. Make-Believe Bathroom provides a possible reprieve, a place to wait, reflect, or complain, gesturing towards how retreat is often undervalued as an activity that enables personal and political survival.

The spaces of public bathrooms have been historically contested, with class, gender, race, and ability determining who gets access to what. The shut-downs of the pandemic have made it especially difficult to find dignified public places with privacy, where one can take care of one's intimate needs. In this time of crisis and change, Make-Believe Bathroom presents a space for possible community that is simultaneously non-functional, a public toilet that both misses and exceeds its purpose.

Amy Lam is an artist and writer. She was born in Hong Kong and lives in Toronto. Lam collaborated with Jon McCurley as the artist duo Life of a Craphead, in conceptual art, performance, media art, and curating. Their work will be presented at the Seoul MediaCity Biennale in 2021. Lam is a founding member of Friends of Chinatown Toronto, a grassroots group working against displacement in Toronto’s downtown Chinatown, and she is also currently working on poetry.

Jenn Jackson is a curator, writer and researcher. She has held positions at a range of public and private organizations. Jackson has written on contemporary art for catalogues, books and journals, and is co-editor of Haunt. She is a guest co-curator, with Phanuel Antwi, Jeneen Frei Njootli, Christian Vistan, and Grant Arnold, of the next civic triennial at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Curated by Jenn Jackson

Web developer: Naomi Cui
3D Renderings: Emerson Maxwell
Soundscape: Vic Cheong 
Audio descriptions: Aliya Pabani

This project includes contributions from Jon McCurley.

Events

Talk: Amy Lam in Conversation with HaeAhn Kwon about Bathrooms
Saturday, October 24, 12pm PDT
Presented on Zoom. Please email sfugallery@sfu.ca for details.

Gathering: Go Together
Saturday, October 24, 11am – 12pm PDT (prior to conversation with the artist)
Friday, November 27, 12 – 2pm PDT

Join the artist for group visit hours in the Make-Believe Bathroom. Bring your friends and use the chat rooms to vent, ask questions, give advice, gossip, et cetera.

Described Tours

Described tours of Make-Believe Bathroom are offered as a point of access for people who are blind, people who live with vision loss or sighted folks who are interested in how meaning is made from looking. They describe possible visitor experiences of Make-Believe Bathroom. Listening to all three visits in sequence is recommended.

These tours are written and produced by Aliya Pabani, with sound design by Vic Cheong.

Stickers

As part of Make-Believe Bathroom, the artist has produced a sticker in collaboration with TO Toilet Codes that businesses, buildings, or public spaces can use to let people know that their washroom facilities are open to everyone — not just paying customers, clients or users. TO Toilet Codes is a Twitter account that posts the locations and accessibility information of various Toronto private and public washrooms, including access codes. More information about the sticker is available by clicking here

Please contact sfugallery@sfu.ca to request a sticker.