Joanna Tam – Boston, Massachusetts

Athletes Study (An Imported Edition) - Carlos Gómez, Archival Inkjet Print, 15 x 22, 2013

Athletes Study (An Imported Edition) – Carlos Gómez, Archival Inkjet Print, 15 x 22, 2013

Briefly describe the work you do.

Using performtive techniques and humor, my work examines the issues of standardization, displacement and the construction of ethnic and national identities.  The medium I use ranges from video, photography, performance, text and installation.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I came to the U.S. from Hong Kong to study Computer Science.  My experiences growing up in a British colony and then living in the U.S. for most of my adult life have been driving the themes in my work.  

The medium that I first learnt to use was photography. Since I did not go to art school before I enrolled to the Museum School MFA program, I did not know a big group of artists to collaborate with in terms of being models of each other’s projects.  I started taking pictures of myself.  At the beginning making self-portraits was purely out of convenience. It was not until I studied performance in graduate school that I started to think about utilizing the body in a more critical manner. 

I was told that my work has a clinical element and I believe it is related to my background in Computer Science.  This may also be the reason that I engage in research-based practice. 

detail Shot Of My Piece

detail Shot Of My Piece

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

I typically spend a lot of time researching, reading and thinking before I start working on my projects. I consider all these activities my studio practice. 

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

I recently started to realize the kind of social capital that artists have in a lot of circumstances. There is a lot of potential in using our social capital to make positive changes in our society.

Reduction Study (Ping Pong) - Video Still, HD Video, 7 Minutes, 2012

Reduction Study (Ping Pong) – Video Still, HD Video, 7 Minutes, 2012

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can? 

I can work pretty well as long as I am in a rather quiet space regardless of the time of the day and I work whenever I can.

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

There was a period of time during that past five years that my main focus was the concepts of the piece and did not concern that much about the aesthetics.  In other words I did not think too much about engaging the viewers. I am happy that I had gone through this phase in my artistic development.  I am also happy that I focus equally on concepts and aesthetics now. 

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

Coco Fusco, Andrea Fraser and Francis Alÿs are all big ones.  The colleagues I met in graduate school also have influenced my work a lot.

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

I had a career in software development before I went to art school.  So this is what I would be doing if I was not an artist. 


headshotJoanna Tam is a Boston-based visual artist originally from Hong Kong.  Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including venues in York, UK; Istanbul, Turkey; Cusco, Peru; New York; Brooklyn; Denver; Kansas City; Boston among others. Joanna’s projects have been awarded the Best Art Film at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York, UK (2012), the People’s Choice Award (Sub-Category) and the Third Prize (Sub-Category) at the Prix de la Photographie, Paris (2009). She was the resident artist at the Center for Photography at Woodstock and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Joanna holds an MFA degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Tufts University and is the co-founder of Howard Art Project, an artist-run gallery / studio space in Dorchester, MA.

In the Studio

In the Studio

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

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