Another island that doesn’t qualify for a permanent national pavilion [watch this space], Singapore is installed inside the Arsenale. A subtle, contemplative exhibition, Charles Lim’s SEA STATE could easily swamped by Okwui Enwezor’s eye-popping, densely-packed Arsenale, but instead Lim’s powerful tableau makes you stop and take a breath.
Anchored by a monolithic, barnacle-covered buoy, SEA STATE tells the story of ‘the combat between sea and land,’ explains Lim. He made the buoy to commemorate one that disappeared along with the island it marked. ‘The island was known as Evil Island and this buoy was a poetic point that was also a point of entry into land reclamation.’
Singapore is the world’s largest sand importer; the city-state has grown by 130 square kilometres over the last 45 years through reclamation and Indonesia has lost two-dozen islands as a result. One of the videos in Lim’s installation shows a ‘sand pirate’ describing his work. ‘It is no longer legal to take sand, but the business continues through piracy. He cannot see beneath the sea and therefore imagines sand to be an infinite resource,’ Lim explains. This lack of knowledge and failure of imagination is exploited by the Navy and corporate advertising, ‘which push the idea of the sublime; man’s courage in the face of inconquerable nature. As artists we have been complicit in this, but we need to develop new ways of looking at the sea.’
Charles Lim, SEA STATE 2: as evil disappears (diptych), 2012. Diptych: Diasec prints. 140.8 x 57.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Future Perfect, Singapore
Before graduating in Fine Art at Central St Martins in 2001, Lim was an Olympic sailor, twice competing in the Americas Cup, and it is his relationship with the sea that informs his work above all: ‘When you’re a sailor, the sea is an office, a work space, and you have a relationship with the water.’
One screen ripples with a seductive sea, like an undulating Hockney swimming pool, ‘or moving wallpaper,’ Lim smiles. ‘It is easy to project ourselves into this classic image of the sublime. But I want you to turn away, to interact.’ The screen then flickers into a video of Lim capsizing his Olympic sailing boat, a device that moves us from a fantasy sea to a screen opposite that shows explosions beneath the water and vast piles of sand, all in the name Singapore’s relentless expansion.
Charles Lim, SEA STATE phase 1 (production still), 2014, Courtesy of the artists & Future Perfect, Singapore
‘This project looks at water as a cultural, territorial state,’ the artist says, as we gaze at spliced videos of towering rigs sucking sand from the seabed, sand shooting out of vast funnels to produce new land mass, and apparently oblivious humans sunbathing on beaches, eating ice creams on a sea wall.
The towering buoy at the centre of the space is as much an emblem of the elephant in the room — this subject is all but ignored on the island — as the epic, articulate and extraordinarily beautiful object it has become. Lim explains he only had to sink the buoy for four weeks to achieve this level of barnacle encrustation. It looks like it has been left beneath the waves for decades if not centuries. ‘Another result of the ecological effect of land reclamation,’ he says. ‘Singapore is now the world centre for barnacle studies.’
Main image: Charles Lim, Buoy in progress, 2015. Courtesy of the artist & Future Perfect, Singapore
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