Teresa Tam at TRUCK Contemporary Art, Calgary
By Levin Ifko
Teresa Tam’s Good Job Arcade is a childhood dream come true. An arcade with endless tokens, free food, and an array of single and multiplayer games, this exhibition will captivate any visitor through its interactivity, visual storytelling, and sincere charm. And while the Good Job Arcade presents itself in one way as an opportunity for viewers to escape their everyday lives, it has also been created with particular care in its exploration of the nuanced longing held by diaspora individuals and communities.
Upon entering the exhibition, viewers are met with a full-scale transformation of the TRUCK Contemporary Art gallery space. At the entrance, visitors are prompted to create their own avatar and to play each game in the arcade to complete their stamp card. Highlights from the gaming room include a claw that rewards the player with a one-of-a-kind small object (each of which was donated to the gallery through a call earlier in May), and digital dumpling filling and eating competitions (because you wouldn’t want to leave grandma’s house on an empty stomach!). There is even a race to acquire grocery items from different stores across a cityscape, which reflects the challenges that come with food shopping in an environment that may not reflect your cultural upbringing.
TRUCK’s transformation includes the gallery’s Parking Lot space, which is now an area where visitors can relax and “un-shrimp” their bodies after a day at the arcade. In this no-shoes-allowed area, you can choose to use a variety of exercise equipment and massage devices, or even to lay down and gaze at the image of a big blue skyline taped to the ceiling. Instructional posters next to each machine invite users to imagine that they are, for example, “walking underwater,” while also engaging with ideas of familial and cultural expectations. A workout machine poster invites you to “Turn Yourself Into a Delicacy” and “Impress your In-Laws!”
With interdisciplinary projects spanning publications, interactive installations, and food art, Teresa Tam has become a staple in the arts scene here in the Treaty 7 area of Southern Alberta. Her work often stands out through its deeply meaningful, yet playful and generous nature. Good Job Arcade continues this trajectory by creating a space where visitors can find accomplishment and belonging.
For the making of this exhibition, Tam collaborated with a group of artists, each of whom contributed to the array of games appearing in the arcade. The Good Job Team consists of Alia Shahab, Danny Luong, Jack Michielsen, Jadda Tsui, Jessica Szeto, Joleen Toner, Jordan Baylon, Pan Priebe, and Vicki Chau. Each member of the team has their own relationship to diaspora, and each perspective brings this show together in a new way.
There are so many good things to say about this exhibition. One thing that struck me in particular was that each time I looked up from a game I’d been playing, I realized I’d never seen this many gallery visitors thoroughly engaged in a contemporary art space. The plethora of opportunities for connection, visually, thematically, physically, and otherwise brought out both the usual artist-run centre crowd (fellow artists, art lovers, and academics), but also couples, families, children, and video game fans of all ages.
Even in a new art world where interactive art is becoming more visible, this kind of engagement is hard to come by. The care and generosity that Tam and the Good Job Arcade team put into this show radiates through the space and reverberates into wider communities. Good Job Arcade is really something special.
Note: You can keep track of ongoing game updates and arcade repairs via the @goodjob_arcade account on Instagram.
Levin Ifko is an interdisciplinary artist and programs coordinator currently based in Mohkinstsis (Calgary). They will talk your ear off about music, media arts, and queer culture, but mostly they believe in art as an opportunity for connection to ourselves and our communities.