Artist Talk: Will Kwan


December 17, 2014 7:00 PM

Please join us for an artist talk on the closing night of Will Kwan’s If All You Have is a Hammer, Then Everything Looks Like a Nail. This will be your last chance to view the show, so we will be running the piece for the hour leading up to the talk and for one final viewing afterwards.


WILL KWAN is a Toronto-based media artist, born in Hong Kong and grew up in Toronto. He received his MFA from the School of Arts at Columbia University (2004) and was a research fellow at the Jan van Eyck Academie (NL). His work has been exhibited at the 2010 Liverpool Biennial, the 2007 Montreal Biennale, the 2003 Venice Biennale, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Art in General, and Cooper Union in New York, Zendai in Shanghai, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, the ZKM in Karlsruhe, the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius, the Polish National Museum in Poznan, the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and The Power Plant in Toronto, and The Western Front in Vancouver. Kwan has been an artist-in-residence at numerous institutions including the Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella, Italy, the Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai and recently at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester,

Exhibition description:

Gendai, Reel Asian Film Festival and Trinity Square Video are pleased to present a newly commissioned work by Toronto-based artist Will Kwan. Titled, If All You Have is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail, Kwan’s new work forms a part of Gendai’s Model Minority program.

For the premiere exhibition of this work, Will Kwan has created a new three channel video that itself responds to an early multi-channel video installation by the Toronto artist John Massey. Produced in 1982 Massey’s work consists of three screens presenting a staged conversation between the artist and a hitchhiker as they drive down a stretch of highway between rural towns north of Toronto. The central screen is intercut with images depicting disparate mental impressions of the subjects arising in their conversation, capturing the instability of language and meaning.

Kwan’s artistic response to Gendaiʼs Model Minority project re-makes this work from the canon of Canadian video art, replacing Massey and his hitchhiker with a White real estate agent and an Asian home-buyer as the passenger as they travel to visit prospective homes for sale, driving from a suburban neighbourhood of tract housing in Markham, Ontario to Forest Hill, an affluent district in Toronto of primarily White homeowners (according to the 2011 Canadian census). As in As the Hammer Strikes, the divergent mental landscapes of the real estate agent and his Asian client will unfold in incongruent—and at times absurd or troubling—images as they strive to reconcile the identity, expectations, and motivations of the other.

The exhibition develops from Kwan’s ongoing examination of diverse cultural practices and histories of intercultural encounters that haunt contemporary political and economic relations. With If All You Have is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail the artist complicates concerns and themes rooted in the aspirations of an East Asian diasporic community who are often cast as the “model minorities.” The work offers a refractive mirror for how perceptions of self, other, community, land and the image of “a good life” are culturally interpolated by the multiple actors, state apparatuses, and property dealers who in turn, actively reconfigure and capitalize off of them. Kwan’s work is a particular narrative mapping of such intersections and collisions. The question is what might be done from these webbed relations beyond reflection.