Breaking away from history

Artist Jason Lim and curator of the show Daniela Beltrani with works from the exhibition. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Artist Jason Lim and curator of the show Daniela Beltrani with works from the exhibition. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Familiar to art lovers as a ceramicist and performance artist, Singaporean Jason Lim has instead chosen to focus on photographs for his latest solo show. The move marks a first in his artistic practice, which spans more than 20 years.

Photography, however, is not alien to his body of art.

The 33 photographic prints on display at Gajah Gallery in Hill Street are drawn from his personal performance art archive and photographed during his performances between 2009 and last year.

Among the enigmatic images is a snapshot from his performance, Duet With Light (2012), Venice, in which his face is partially illuminated by burning candles melting onto his fingertips. The piece is part of his Duet series, which explores the essence of material, such as light and threads, through durational performances.

In another moment captured during his performance, Last Drop #41 (2011), Seoul, a photograph shows distorted, spectral-like refractions of his visage in two glass carafes filled with water. The Last Drop series examines subtle movements and sounds through the artist's interaction with different types of material, including glass and water.

The prints are priced for sale between $3,300 and $5,500.

Lim, 48, who is on the visual arts faculty at the School of the Arts, says the idea for the exhibition was sparked by a desire to show and do something he had never tried before.

"I have always thought some of these photographs are interesting and wanted to show them but never got around to it. This is a chance for me to test them out and move in a new direction, the area of fine-art photography," he says.

Indeed, the photographs in the exhibition are meant to be viewed beyond mere records of his performances, says the curator of the show Daniela Beltrani, 46, a Singapore-based Italian performance artist who took some of the pictures.

She says: "The photographs in the show convey poignant moments. Although they were taken to document different bodies of performances, the images have an aesthetic quality, a meditative quality about them.

"They are not lists of Jason's actions during a performance and he did not pose for the camera. They offer a different way of seeing performance art."

Lim says the basis for selecting photographs for the show also sets the pictures apart from the rest of his archival material. "I usually have in my mind images, ideas, that I want to create during my performance and I choose the photographs that come closest to what I originally envisioned."

For him, these coincidental overlaps between his intention and performance as well as the experience of the viewer as captured in photographs are fleeting, in keeping with the ephemeral spirit of performance art and, in turn, sublime.

While the focus of the show is on photography, it does not shy away from his performance-art sensibilities, which are imbued in the images. A section of the exhibition therefore traces his 20-year-long performance art practice, beginning in 1994, in the form of a timeline. It is accompanied by paraphernalia such as publicity posters and props from past performances.

The timeline, Beltrani says, aims to help viewers "contextualise what they see as a point in time" in the photographs. It will also come in handy for audiences here who have not had many opportunities to witness his performance art live.

Lim, who holds a Bachelor of Arts from London's Central Saint Martins and a Master of Fine Arts from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, has shown his performance art in 25 countries. Most of his performances, which number more than 150, however, were presented overseas because of Singapore's decade-long proscription of performance art in 1994 and the many invitations he received to show his work abroad.

Beltrani says: "We hope the exhibition will show the public a side of his practice that they are not aware of."

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