Upaya

Solo Exhibition By Jason Lim

4 April - 4 May 2011

By Daniela Beltrani

Upaya is the Sanskrit word loosely referring to skilful means. Within the iconographic Buddhist context, it is associated with the “Earth Witness” mudra, specifically with the right hand of Buddha, all five fingers extended towards the ground, during the moment of enlightenment, in which he called upon the Earth goddess to witness his state and overcome the tempting demon Mara.

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This is not the first time Jason Lim draws from his religious ancestry to frame his works inspired by nature. One of his two installations for the Venice Biennale 2007, Just Dharma, composed of over a thousand porcelain lotus flowers, subsequently and abruptly destroyed in an alluring performance of mesmerising lights, seduced the audience with a spectacle reminiscent of their own fragility and impermanence.

Foremost, it calls upon the raw earth as the essential and primordial element for his creations: clay comes from earth and is returned to earth. This concept is reflected also in western Christian traditions as stated in the Bible: “Until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3, 19). Yet, because of genuine skill - of which manipulation is only a small part - learnt through education and enriched and refined through the artist’s sensibilities and consistent practice, Lim transforms the pure energy this element is charged with into complex forms, textures, and colours with the indispensable assistance of fire. The careful handling of this essential element is a crucial part of the process to guarantee durability and resistance, a potential timelessness. In fact, unplanned variations in temperature may cause damage or unintended outcomes. And just as enlightenment is a fulfilling state at the end of a tortuous path, full of obstacles and distractions, which, when reached, is made all the more meaningful because of having overcome them; the object created (and intended) is a miraculous result, a mixture of skill and fate, consequential to the artist’s intent and the element of unpredictability.

Lim has elected clay as the medium for his artistic sensibilities to be expressed. This choice was made, many years ago, because of the opportunity to explore the endless visual and tactile possibilities of the medium and it has been reiterated since with the perseverance of a faithful lover, not only in his sculptural practice, but also in his performances. Clay has always been considered a craft medium with a mostly utilitarian nature, often at the service of more noble materials. Yet, what most people seem to overlook is that the hands of the artist work freely and directly onto this medium and leave their mark in every curve, every groove, every crevice of the final product, thus bearing the artist’s “material” signature. Lim does not always sign his creations, because ultimately he feels this is unnecessary, since he is conscious that his signature is deeply embedded in his work through physical and metaphysical interaction with the medium.

Indeed, against the artistic tradition of sculpture, consistent over the centuries in its aspiration to immortality, Lim offers the intimacy of a fragile, domestic material, directly worked on, requiring care and attention in its creation as much as in its appreciation.

Moreover, the way Lim unfolds this practice is an extremely solitary and meditative experience; a sort of “duet” with the material, to paraphrase the title of some of his performances. Yet the works themselves are never isolated in terms of space and time and are in fact often in the company of others, thus creating a series, for practical reasons concerning the economy of space, materials, and resources and also to allow the artist’s world of possibilities to be expanded. Each series, in turn, is often concluded with a set of “drawings”, where the clay is worked as if it were a piece of paper, the inspiration coming from the same series itself, a kind of reverse sketching.

Furthermore, the studio1 can be seen as the temple, where such an experience is best to occur. At the periphery of Singapore, this materialises in quiet surroundings; silence interrupted only by the occasional sound of animals, the rushing of water of a nearby small fountain or the violent and deafening storms of the rainy season; an open space with a humble tin roof and no walls, open to the generous and luscious variety of the neighbouring jungle.

A collector once asked Lim about the potential durability of a commission in ceramics she had entrusted upon him: the answer can be found in thousands of art historical or ethnographical museums, exhibiting works of old civilizations. The potential long life of Lim’s creations can be forsook only by lack of attention in handling them. And such fragility is also akin to the state of mankind.

Yet, in this long overdue solo exhibition, for the first time Lim presents a collection of fragments from the aforementioned installation conceptualized for the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, encased in a perspex box, vaguely reminiscent of a canvas. The audacious intention is two-fold: on one hand, Lim wishes to challenge the concept of an artwork, as an immaculate result of artistic sensibility and extraordinary skill, the legacy of an oxymoronic modernist tradition. This expectation of perfection is perhaps also associated with a consumerist habit, when purchasing first hand goods. Yet, while most artworks seem to have become commodities, easily traded and often manipulated, Lim here reminds us of their primary, relative economic value, as undefined objects leading up to a priceless artistic experience and not as merely pristine objects in themselves.

On the other hand, he wishes to propose a work, which – despite, or perhaps precisely because of, the damaged status of its components – is pregnant with the animistic soul of a relic after a performance, where “an” indeterminate object becomes charged with the energy of that performance, which will therefore render it “the” determinate, unique object. Lim himself often collects relics after the performances of other artists, precisely because of this belief in the power and energy the performance has charged a common object and transformed it into a distinct one.

The rest of the selection of old and new works presented in this exhibition intends to offer a glimpse into Lim’s sculpting practice over the last ten years and to propose an opportunity to appreciate the variety of possibilities within the frame of his constant inspiration in nature. It intends to bring these works out of Lim’s studio and into a gallery space, while at the same time emulating the more apt and cozy surroundings of a lived-in space, where his creations ultimately will be best appreciated and enjoyed.

Daniela Beltrani is an artist and independent curator

Artist:

  • Jason Lim

 

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