Motion in stillness.
This is the phrase that lingered on in my mind well after leaving SEED The Art Space a week ago.
I’d spent a good amount of time there being thoroughly entranced by STILL, its present exhibition of art by ceramicist Nelson Lim. In the chaos of a Singapore Art Week lauded for its inclusion of over 130 events in a short 10-day period, STILL came across as a complete breath of fresh air. The exhibition theme alludes to a state of balance, where the continuous interplay between order and chaos produces creativity and transformation.
When visiting exhibitions, I have a personal ritual of reading wall text before browsing the actual show to give myself the necessary context and background to understand the works on display. But for some reason, in this presentation, I could not seem to absorb any text at all. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I could let the artworks speak to me and let my imagination run wild.
To give you a brief introduction to Nelson Lim’s practice, this is an artist who has worked with ceramics as his primary medium throughout his career. His first solo ceramics exhibition in 2017 at Yingge Ceramics Museum in Taiwan made waves and lead him to be invited to participate in several prominent regional exhibitions. His most well-known artwork is perhaps , a 6 metre-high and 10 metre-wide installation made of barbed wires and porcelain clay.
In his current solo exhibition at SEED, he explored using a new material, paper fabric, in his art-making.
Among the works displayed, these two pieces were the only ones fixed on lightboxes:
I later learned from the artist himself that it was an experimental artwork.
To be perfectly honest, at first glance, these lightbox-mounted works were not as eye-catching as the other pieces in the show. But upon closer observation, the works not only reflected the exhibition’s essence but also marked Lim’s refreshed perspectives on art-making in the field of ceramics.
Unlike Lim’s previous well-known piece, Construction of Memories, which expresses the artist’s memories, the works in STILL contend with the harmonies of chaos and order in present times.
Letting Nature Take Its Course
The well-known teaching by Chinese Philosopher Lao Zi on wu wei, which translates to “no action,” demonstrates that we should — as far as possible — let nature take its course. If we can achieve this, our actions will then move naturally and spontaneously, leading us to achieve our desired results. Wu wei in a contemporary context can perhaps be seen in the practice of mindfulness. In this era where social media publicly broadcasts our ideals and desires, or even at work, where the need to keep on striving and staying afloat drives us, the fear of not amounting to anything productive can overwhelm us.
By observing mindfulness, we hope that our thoughts will flow more naturally. If we force a counter-reaction by stopping our free-flowing thoughts, we end up imposing artificially constructed actions on our natural behaviour – a state which is not at all ideal. To manage these potentially overwhelming feelings, the teachings of both wu wei and mindfulness can show us how to us to breathe meditatively, stabilise our emotions, and let our actions flow more naturally and authentically.
Motion in Stillness
I saw these principles come alive through Nelson’s work in STILL.
Nelson has successfully channelled the spirit of wu wei to create a dynamic and random, yet harmonious series of artworks. He chose paper fabric as the main structure for this series after being inspired by the increased usage of paper wipes during the recent global health crisis. He also added paper pulp into his liquid porcelain clay mixtures to strengthen the paper fabric before firing the works in his kiln.
The works in this show were produced from a series of actions that seemed effortless and natural at every stage. From the adding of paper fabric into the porcelain clay mixture, to the state of stillness in the material as the fabric soaked up the liquid, to the final positioning of the materials on acrylic boards, the art-making process embodied the wu wei philosophy. At every stage, authentic and free-flowing action took place until finally, the desired result was achieved and the artworks completed.
The final artworks in STILL retain the intricate textures of the paper fabric used by Lim, presenting themselves as organic and raw expressions of the artist’s creativity.
The lightboxes in Still (Lightbox series) add an unexpected layer of spontaneity to Lim’s work. Despite his initial doubts about their inclusion, he pushed on with the idea. This courageous experimental step allows visitors to explore different perspectives as they engage with his work. I observed a ‘stream of energy’ flowing in a circular motion as I took in the works. As the lightboxes lit up, different amounts of light shone on the creases of the individual paper fabric folds, creating a magical effect and adding to the dreamlike illusions conceived in my mind.
Here’s a look at some of the other artworks on display in STILL:
Clearly, the intimate environment at SEED The Art Space has allowed Lim to demonstrate his mastery in ceramics production.
Co-founders of SEED, Connie Wong, Lourdes Samson and Ivy Lam were enthused by Lim’s work, having first encountered it in 2020 during a ceramics exhibition that they had co-curated. Inspired by how the artist experiments with and pushes the limits of clay, they started a conversation with him in 2021 to understand his new experiments.
Said Wong, Samson and Lam, “We were excited by the possibilities of how simple wet tissue fibre could be combined with porcelain to create such sculptural and painterly artworks. As this is the first time Nelson is experimenting with these materials, (the work) fits very well into SEED’s mission of ‘seeding new ideas.’ With that, STILL was conceptualised and we haven’t looked back since.”
While no immediate additional exhibitions by Lim are being planned, I’m confident that true to the wu wei philosophy espoused by the artist, nature will take its course and we will be seeing much more of this emerging talent in the months and years to come.
STILL runs at SEED The Art Space till 6 February. More details can be found .