Interview with Ho Tam, Hotam magazine
I first came across Ho Tam when he was sitting behind his stall at this year’s Miss Read in Berlin. Next to him there was a propped up copy of the first issue of his magazine, Hotam, and on the cover there was a half-smiling picture of Ho behind a desk in exactly the same position he was now sat at the independent publishing fair. The issue was themed ‘A Brief History of Me’, and across the 64 pages was a timeline of Ho’s life: ‘I am never the one who shows myself in artwork or in the public,’ Ho told me, ‘I never made a self-portrait before this. But for the first issue, since I used my name as the title, I thought it was only fair to introduce myself to the reader.’
A couple of weeks later, I emailed Ho when he was back at his home in Toronto, intrigued by Hotam issue six. Each page is set up like a different popular magazine cover, but instead of a traditional Vogue or Wallpaper* image, the cover picture is an original photograph taken by Ho. So for Dwell there’s an image of his sleepy cat lying on a duvet, and for Playboy, a photo of a laid-back man on strike. ‘I grew up reading tons of magazines (probably more than books),’ Ho explained, ‘And I always thought about how magazine covers are about selling something, about drawing the reader in. I wanted to explore the connection between text and images, to make people think of what is outside of the magazines.’ As you flip through the pages, Ho’s bespoke covers are a brilliant mixture of the hilarious and the telling.
Some of the issues are purposefully mundane whilst others are more adventurous, but all issues of Hotam are in some way personal to Ho. Issue two brought together his entire collection of business cards since the 80s, which poignantly and abstractly tell stories about both Ho and the card givers. A ‘Journey to the West’ issue featured Ho dressed up as a fictional time traveller from the 19th Century, posing in front of iconic tourist spots like the Grand Canyon and the Eiffel Tower. He’s also made a ‘Hot Asian Men Literary Special’, and an entire issue dedicated to the barbershops located in Manhattan’s Chinatown. ‘The hairdressing issue is both an art project and a social study,’ Ho told me, ‘By looking at the hair cutting culture, you discover so much about the people, the community, and the architecture of the neighbourhood.’
Currently, Ho is working on his newest issue, which will be about his experience with the Canadian Navy (he was recently a resident artist on a naval ship). The edition will be a work of ‘fiction and non-fiction’, it will be a ‘romance of the sea’, and a combination of photos, words and memories like the previous issues of Hotam. As someone interested in storytelling and personal memory, the printed format seems well-suited to Ho’s endeavour, and he thinks of each issue as an art project that uses the format of a magazine. ‘I used to exhibit my work in galleries,’ Ho said, ‘but an exhibition is limited by the location and can only be visited by so many people. For me, the printed medium is like a portable gallery, and it is more personal, because the reader experiences the work in their own hands.’