Venice’s Nordic Pavilion Receives a Massive Chinese Dragon

Venice's Nordic Pavilion, at the Upcoming Venice Biennale, Receives a Massive Chinese Dragon Installation, Created by Lap-See Lam.

Feb 10, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Venice's Nordic Pavilion
Lap-See Lam with the dragon tail by Lu Guangzheng for The Altersea Opera. Photo: Mattias Lindbäck/Moderna Museet.


Venice’s Nordic Pavilion, at the upcoming Venice Biennale, receives a massive Chinese dragon installation. Except dragon, the installation features a beautiful story about a Cantonese creature who is half human and half fish. This is also the inaugural time the exhibit will include Nordic artists of East Asian background. Lap-See Lam, a Swedish-born artist of Hong Kong Cantonese descent, created the piece.


Venice’s Nordic Pavilion Shows a Fascinating History of Minorities

Venice's Nordic Pavilion
Lap-See Lam with dragon head by Lu Guangzheng for The Altersea Opera. Photo: Mattias Lindbäck/Moderna Museet.


The Altersea Opera is the name of the installation. It uses Cantonese folklore to examine the existential consequences of identity and dislocation as a result of migration. Also, it is a part of Lam’s own family heritage. Despite the fact that the Chinese zodiac indicates that this is the Year of the Dragon, the enormous dragon head and tail that will bookend the pavilion have a fascinating history that goes beyond their astrological importance.


The elaborate sculptures were formerly a component of a three-story, 100-foot-long dragon vessel. Constructed in Shanghai, Sea Palace was a floating Chinese restaurant in Gothenburg, Sweden, during the 1990s. After the restaurant closed, it turned into a ghost ship for the Gröna Lund attraction. It was at the theme park that Lam found the dilapidated ship. It also it fuelled her plans for The Altersea Opera.


Venice's Nordic Pavilion
From Lap-See Lam’s film shoot with Bruno Hibombo in the role of Lo Ting. Textile artwork by Kholod Hawash. © Lap-See Lam. Photo: Mai Nestor/Moderna Museet.


Additionally, she found motivation in the Red Boat Opera Company. It is a touring Cantonese opera company that helped the genre gain popularity in the 1800s. The “boat” framework for the Venice Biennale installation is going to be produced with bamboo structure. The main component of Lam’s installation is a movie that reimagines Lo Ting’s voyage. Lo Ting is a hybrid human-fish figure of Cantonese myth.

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Installation’s Meaning

The Venice Biennale
La Biennale di Venezia. Via Wikipedia


Lam created the libretto for her film, which was filmed on board the dragon ship. It recounts the story of Lo Ting’s desire to go back to Fragrant Harbour, her previous residence. The confrontation between two incarnations of Lo Ting lies at the heart of the artist’s telling of the story. One of which is from the past and the other from the future. Eventually, while praying to the sea goddess of Ma-Zhou, the two incarnations of Lo Ting cross paths on the dragon ship that the previous Lo Ting unintentionally called forth.


“When I started to read about the mythologies surrounding Lo Ting in the Hong Kong context, I quickly understood it is a figure that is being used by scholars and artists”, Lam said in a video call from her studio in Stockholm. “It has very loaded significance within the contemporary art scene”, she also added. Much of The Altersea Opera relies on her experiences as a minority in Sweden, which more broadly relates to the biennial’s topic of “Foreigners Everywhere”.


The Polish PavilionLa Biennale di Venezia 2023. Via Archdaily


“My work focuses on generational loss. Although the work comes from a very specific need to explore something personal, I really want to make it universal, to have that potential to reach out [to you] no matter who you are”, the artist said. “I want to make work that also lives in this emotional space, and that can be relevant for the generations before or after me”.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.