September 14, 2015
Courtyard Gallery Opening: Culture Extracts by James Sham
Opening reception: September 16, 5–7 p.m.
Exhibition dates: September 16 – January 23, 2016
James Sham distills both meaning and materials from his subjects. A 16th century alchemist lost
in the 21st century, Sham’s sculptures, photographs and videos result from the same intense
experimentation once used in an effort to transmute lead into gold. In Culture Extract, Sham
extracts Chinese kitsch cork models and treats them like biological specimens. The models in
their test tubes are at once beautiful and mystifying fragments.
The seriousness of both purpose and process demonstrated in Sham’s Extract: Goldfish stands
in sharp contrast with the inherent ludicrousness of the project. It must be as difficult as it is
absurd to distill pure color from goldfish cadavers, something Sham has spent years in doing –
an absurdity the artist underscores when he calculates the value of this extracted pigment
according to the current international gold standard. As a transplant first from Hong Kong to
Canada and now from Virginia to Texas, Sham is acutely interested in such instances of
crosstalk and miscommunication. While you can’t trade the gold from his deceased goldfish on
the commodity market, the homographic items cost the same.
In other projects, Sham has interfered with communication directly, by tying the hands of a deaf
performer as they sign, for example. Confining his performers, he forces them to fail in their
efforts to interact and then releases them, thus making their now-successful connections all the
more powerful. Sham’s sculptures read as surreally dislocated but in that dislocation, he finds a
key to connection. If the complexity of acculturation itself is absurd, maybe we all have
something in common.
“Culture Extract is a collection of liquid specimens, obtained directly on site in the wake of
Hurricane Ike. The event devastated local cork and pigment plants, sending contamination
throughout the adjacent water supply. For weeks, each time the toilet flushed, various cork and
pigmented specimens washed back into the bowl from the sewage system. These specimens
were collected, sterilized and catalogued by the artist and represent a cross-section of minerals,
rocks, vegetation and architecture from a fictitious and lost culture.” –James Sham
—Elizabeth Welch, a Ph.D. candidate in Art History, whose research focuses on 20th century American
art and visual cultures of performing arts. She served as the 2014–2015 Curatorial Fellow at the
Department of Art and Art History’s Visual Arts Center.
James Sham is an inter-disciplinary contemporary artist whose research focuses on interfacing
technologies and material processes from a variety of disciplines within contemporary art. His artwork has
been exhibited in venues as diverse as the Tate Modern (London), Appetite Gallery (Buenos Aires),
Kunstprojects (Berlin), The Open Works Institute (Bucharest), White Box Gallery (New York City), and the
Asian Arts Initiative (Philadelphia) and has screened and published on European Cable Network
Broadcast (Germany and France), the Ellensburg Film Festival (Seattle) among others. Having received a
MFA in Sculpture and Extended Media from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2008, and a BA in
Studio Art and Philosophy from Dartmouth College in 2005, Sham is now based in Austin, Texas and
Washington, DC, where he is Assistant Professor of Sculpture in the Department of Fine Arts and Art
History at George Washington University.
The Courtyard Gallery is located in the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center at The
University of Texas at Austin and features artwork from faculty and alumni of the Department of Art and
Art History in the College of Fine Arts. It is the result of a collaborative effort between the Office of the
Vice President for University Operations and the College of Fine Arts and is curated by Visual Arts Center
Director Jade Walker.