Pearl Lam Galleries presents “In Silence”, a group exhibition that explores the introspective qualities of art from the contemporary era. The show features works by eight artists from international strongholds in contemporary art: American artist Jenny Holzer, Chinese artists Qian Jiahua and Tao Hui, Indonesian artist Melati Suryodarmo, Iranian artist Golnaz Fathi, Japanese artist Sayaka Ishizuka, and Singaporean artists Ezzam Rahman and Zen Teh. The exhibition title draws inspiration from Nyepi Day, or day of silence, which marks the coming of the Balinese New Year. On this day of self-restraint and reflection, people withdraw from each other with all social activity halted from 6am. 24 hours later, the healed rouse themselves and begin the renewal of ties with each other. The observance of prohibitions is a ritual similarly practiced and expressed in a variety of ways in art. In Silence seeks the essence of this day of recollection and meditation, establishing renewal and reconciliation as a shared concern.
As a practitioner of classical Persian calligraphy, Golnaz Fathi (b. 1972) subscribes to the disciplinary belief that movement, breath, thought, and emotion come together and are expressed in the flow of the line, which is created using a qalam, a reed pen used in Persian calligraphy. The highest level is achieved when the calligrapher is able to disengage from the ego, abstracting him or herself from the process. In Fathi’s calligraphy, readability is abandoned in favour of sign. The specific sign isn’t a fixed visual form but lies in the marks of her qalam, which are delicate, restrained, and forceful. A highly volatile tool, the production of each line is a challenge to the calligrapher and evidence of her mental disengagement.
Where Fathi seeks to let go of the ego, Jenny Holzer (b. 1950) deals with the unconscious inflation of it in the speaking world. Her truisms are simple declarations that challenge their audiences’ perception of the world through irony and double entendre. “不良意圖也能產生好結果 (BAD INTENTIONS CAN ALSO YIELD GOOD RESULTS)” is one truism that features in this exhibition. While her truisms tend to declare their presence as text, they are often also deliberately difficult to read, flashing and moving on LED panels and projected on uneven building surfaces, dissolving into displays that play out a scenario where the aforementioned truism runs true. Text, moving text, and text on uneven surfaces are made deliberately difficult to read, echoing John Baldessari’s idea of “wrong” art. Despite playing out a situation where readability is put in question, Holzer continues to produce a “good” result, making a witty statement against those who believe themselves to know it all. The world is vast and infinite, ever changing, and bigger than the self. In today’s globalised world, we are simultaneously growing more distant and virtually closer to each other in terms of cultural history, way of living, and social identity.
Tao Hui (b. 1987) uses technological procedures to force viewers to confront this conflicted situation, often challenging the barrier between what is public and private and blurring the boundaries between the personal and institutional. In Talk About Body (2013), he removes his private emotions from the anthropological description of his body in order to find a semblance of balance in identity and being. In order to understand himself, Tao abstracts his mind from the body and seeks virtual intimacy in physical distance. Understanding ourselves as beings who are distinct from each other does not necessarily lie in the physical.
Ezzam Rahman’s (b. 1981) work, made up of performance for photography, found and everyday objects, and skin sculptures, captures the aftershock of a social high. Alternately intimate yet isolating, Rahman infuses dark humour in his work, commenting on us as individuals who are unconsciously driven toward each other. We reach out in embrace, but despite the euphoria of physical contact, the body still finds itself bereft of emotional intimacy. It remains hungry for a connection in a mistaken corporeal yearning, which only manages to accentuate the feeling of isolation. Each person, self-contained as a living being and differentiated from the next, is an island. We are literally marooned from each other.
Performance artist Melati Suryodarmo (b. 1969) takes this as one of her starting points. Best known for her durational performances made up of simple gestures and actions repeated laboriously over time, she forces her body to repeat and move in what has to be seen as a non-productive manner: nothing is ever completed, only repeated. By repeating spoken phrases and movements, her works question the efficacy of action or inaction and the significance of words and gestures. For Suryodarmo, she is trapped in a constant attempt to reach out to the world in vain. For some people, they are also marooned within themselves.
Working with the body’s presence in space, Zen Teh (b. 1988) presents situations that challenge the way we orient ourselves in the gallery. Geometric shapes are layered, overlapped, and continuously present new dimensions of the visible world, thwarting any normative attempt at spatial negotiation. Alternately confrontational and vertiginous, Teh plays with our habitual reactions toward material like concrete and reflective surfaces in order to displace the visitor. Meditating upon the possibility of the mind accepting singular or multiple perspectives depending on the situation, Teh expresses its alternately rigid and fractured identity, alone in its own way.
Qian Jiahua (b. 1987) plays with painting’s reliance on its singular objecthood, reducing her paintings into multiple pieces of canvas elements that integrate the wall into the painting-installation itself. Strongly sensitive to the impact of space and its relationship with objects, Qian strives to integrate the experience of painting with the experience of painting-object through its considered placement in the exhibition environment. In a certain way, each canvas could stand alone as a single painting but would quickly reintegrate itself into the larger work through the viewer’s attention of the surface, littered with thin diagonals that lead the eye subtly from one canvas to another. Alternately systemic, diagrammatic, and random, the communication process is constantly being challenged through a process of reduction. The ties that bind are fragile and demanding, requiring constant attention and work. These ties are often found in the everyday.
Sayaka Ishizuka (b. 1980) uses grains of rice as a metaphor for individuals. Beginning her creative process on the level of the real, the lived, and the experienced, Ishizuka selects personal histories, memories, daily rituals, and processes as the point of departure in fleshing out her simple yet profound spatial diagrams of the ties that bind us. Rice grains come together to form patterns and shapes on her canvases, expressing an instance of communal harmony. For her, rice’s double status as seed and food in her social and cultural life means there is simultaneously a potential for new life and the end of the current one. This serves as a metaphor for human life, which is like a long journey with a constant promise for new life. Grains of life touch each other, sometimes even literally threaded together in gold, reflecting abundance and the valuable connections made and preserved between people.
For the works chosen for this exhibition, encompassing pen and paint, organic and industrial materials, video and performative media, the link lies not in the material but in their joint respect for a presence. Works that belie a retreat and discipline are brought together with the intention of touching upon how art reflects and expresses the varied human interaction with the world made up of people, society, and our natural environment.