Local artist Charles Lim, a former professional sailor, has been exploring Singapore’s loss of maritime resources and its physical transfiguration since 2005 in his ongoing “Sea State” series. The latest addition to the series was shown last week at Future Perfect in the exhibition, “Sea State 2: As Evil Disappears,” and comprised photographs, maps, two video installations and a topographical 3D rapid-prototype print, all dated 2012, and all chronicling the metamorphosis that accompanies reclamation.
Singapore’s land reclamation around nearby islands has been the cause of considerable dispute with neighboring Malaysia, which claims these works encroach onto its territorial waters and contaminate fishing grounds. Lim’s video installations Sea State: Drift (Rope Sketch 1) and Sea State: Drift (Stay Still Now to Move), projected on opposite walls of the gallery, probe the illusion of man-made political boundaries. In Rope Sketch 1, a length of rope floats along the watery border between the two countries, where it undulates and curls on the open sea; Stay Still Now to Move presents a vast stretch of ocean where a lax figure in a life vest drifts around the same imaginary perimeter, guided only by currents and wave swells.
The remainder of the exhibition regards the tiny island of Pulau Sajahat, formerly located off the northeast coast of Singapore. Two large maritime charts dated 2000 and 2012, respectively, disclose the island’s startling disappearance since reclamation works began in 2010. With documentarian control, Lim dissects the process of loss by splicing together photographic scenes of Singapore’s seascape, often showing dredging vessels, backhoes and imported soil, thus revealing the gradual transformation of sea into man-made land as Pulau Sajahat is subsumed. Goryo 6 Ho is a composite of three such images one stacked on top of the other; in the diptych As Evil Disappears, six landscapes tilted 90 degrees are placed side-to-side so that the vertical strata of tropical blue sky, water and white sandy horizons appear abstract and illusory. Sea State 2: Pulau Sajahat, is a digital drawing of the island overwhelmed with sgraffito-like foliage and placed against a sky-blue background. The hand-drawn details of the island consign the once-real place to the imagination.
There is an elegant detachment to Lim’s work that professes no environmental or political stance. Lim merely considers, dispassionately, how Singapore is bound inexorably with the sea, even as its people seek to negate it. This notion is reflected in a blithe bit of marketing from the Singapore Navy that accompanies the exhibit, and which claims the ocean can be easily tamed by special radar technology that “makes sure you don’t even have to think about the sea. Ever.” Lim’s sea, once a formidable presence, has been nullified, its reality now only a cipher.