Critics’ Picks

View of “SEA STATE,” 2016.

View of “SEA STATE,” 2016.


Charles Lim Yi Yong

NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore
Block 6 Lock Road Gillman Barracks
April 30–July 10, 2016

The culmination of Charles Lim’s research since 2005 and the most comprehensive in a series of exhibitions, “SEA STATE” is an exhaustive lens through which a practice that seeks to understand national borders not through land but through the sea is revealed. Presented in a gallery with brilliant white floors and light-box ceilings, the art occupies an extremely white “white cube.” But such an archetypal exhibition space seems almost ironic given the inclusion of objects that in any other context could be material evidence, such as maps, a video interview multiscreen video works, and an appropriated buoy.

Suspended within such an atmosphere, works such as Sea State 7: Sandwich, 2015, featuring vertically oriented footage of harbors, and Sea State 3: Inversion, 2014, a 3-D sand print that details the negative space of the seabed surrounding Singapore, cultivate an aesthetics of information. Based on distilled geological data, the nonspecialist may find such work difficult to read––although everyone can appreciate an art object. Expanded on from its last iteration in the Singapore Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, this body of work delves deep into the modern history of the city-state’s land reclamation project. Particularly poignant is Sea State 9: Proclamation, 2015, an adapted map of the city-state’s recovered land that harks back to the Foreshores Act, a law that declares all reclaimed land as belonging to the state and absolved of any public or private rights asserted before it was repossessed.

The artworks presented in “SEA STATE” double as geopolitical residuals from borders that change rapidly and sometimes disappear altogether. Like the elusive delineations that they aim to capture, these objects are tensely poised between art and records of a politically charged and geologically impactful land grab in the region.