press release

Charles Lim Yi Yong
SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden
April 27–October 27, 2019

Singapore has grown substantially over the years, not only in terms of population and urban development, but also physically through land reclamation. As a contribution to critical conversations on this intrinsic aspect of the country’s development, Singapore artist Charles Lim Yi Yong has transformed the Gallery’s Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden into a social space that facilitates deeper understanding of the complexity and intricacies of Singapore’s reclamation landscape.

Titled SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden, it is the Gallery’s first Roof Garden Commission by a Singapore artist, and also Lim’s first extensive foray into re-designing a physical space for his work. Visitors will encounter over 30 lesser-known plant species that thrive in reclaimed areas around Singapore, including Changi, Tuas and the Southern Islands. The title of this living art installation references the proclamations made by the Presidents of Singapore under the Foreshores Act that dates to 1872, in which sites reclaimed from the sea are officially declared as state lands. For Lim, each proclamation sets in motion a chain of developmental changes that can quickly obscure other types of life, activities, knowledge and histories forming at the margins of Singapore, which are indexed by the plants found there and in turn generate their own narratives. The plants too express the density of metaphors that have accompanied the representation of post-independence Singapore, as a self-conscious Garden City despite the ecological ramifications of land reclamation.

Working with the Gallery’s Senior Curator Adele Tan, and local botanical consultant Veera Sekaran, founder of the urban greening company Greenology, Lim has tactically replaced the garden’s original ornamental and protective landscaping with an eclectic assembly of plants found in reclaimed areas of Singapore, bringing also an increased biodiversity to the Gallery’s roof garden. They are spread across the planter boxes around the rooftop and in a specially constructed experimental nursery at the heart of the garden, allowing visitors to come up close to these uncommon plant species. The resulting work also serves as a microcosm of the thriving plant ecosystems found in newly reclaimed land areas, which are often perceived as barren.

As part of his project, Lim has conceived a 30-minute podcast that will feature insights and anecdotes from various specialists in botany, geography, constitutional and legal history, and land reclamation, helping visitors paint a more vivid picture of the process of land reclamation and transformation over the years. This podcast will be hosted on the Gallery’s website and the Gallery Explorer App. An illustrated catalogue featuring full-colour profile images taken by the artist of the new plants at the roof garden will also be published to accompany the Commission. These are the extended platforms of SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden, serving to facilitate more dialogues on the larger issues brought up by the exhibition.

The Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Commission series invites one leading international artist each year to present a site-specific work that reflects upon Southeast Asia’s rich cultural heritage and complex histories from a contemporary perspective. Previous artists commissioned for the series include Danh Vo and Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Charles Lim Yi Yong (b. 1973, Singapore) studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design, London, graduating in 2001. As a former professional and Olympic sailor, Lim’s artistic practice stems from an intimate engagement with the natural world, informed by field research and experimentation, drawing, photography and digital video. His long-term SEA STATE project, begun in 2005, examines the political and biophysical contours of the nation-state through the visible and invisible lenses of the sea. Lim’s work has been exhibited widely across Europe and the Asia-Pacific, at Documenta11 (with the collective and Manifesta 7, at biennials in Shanghai, Singapore and Osaka, and more recently in the Biennale of Sydney, Australia, the EVA International in Ireland, and the Aichi Triennale in Japan. His recent solo exhibitions have been held at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore (2016) and the Johann Jacobs Museum, Zurich (2017), and in 2015 he represented Singapore at the 56th Venice Biennale. Lim’s 2011 film, All the Lines Flow Out, premiered at the 68th Venice Film Festival where it won a Special Mention Award. His work is held in the collections of the Singapore Art Museum, M+ Museum for Visual Culture (Hong Kong), and in private and corporate collections around the world.