Limerick, Ireland
Charles Lim Yi Yong, Stealing the Trapeze, 2016, HD video, courtesy of the artist

Charles Lim Yi Yong

b. 1973, Singapore

Charles Lim Yi Yong is an artist and former Olympic sailor. In 2005 he initiated SEA STATE, a series of nine projects, with the premise of inverting perceptions of sea and land in the island city-state of Singapore. SEA STATE explores the biophysical, aspirational, and cerebral contours of the southeast Asian city through the lens of the sea. The structure of the series is inspired by the World Meteorological Organization’s code for measuring sea conditions, which numbers the varying states ranging from calm, to moderate, to the phenomenal. Considered together, SEA STATE is an index of this extreme oscillation and a call attention to such changes.

The work Stealing the Trapeze (2016) is inspired by the history of a very specific tool used for navigation. It is part of the history of catamarans, a type of boat seldom constructed in the temperate West before the nineteenth century, but in wide use as early as the 5th century AD in what is known today as South India. The word ‘catamaran’ is derived from the Tamil language (from kattu meaning ‘to tie’ and maram meaning wood or tree). One of the earliest mentions of the catamaran was made by the seventeenth-century adventurer William Dampier when he encountered this peculiar sailing vessel in the southeastern part of India during his first circumnavigation around the globe. The catamaran was prevalent from equatorial South to Southeast Asia and well into the Pacific as a design solution that allowed for greater stability and lower resistance when passing through water because of its narrow hull shape. Today, it is raced in the America’s Cup.

Another boat with a narrow hull shape, which was developed within the Riau Archipelago, is the Kolek. It is a class of boats specifically built for racing. Its sailors use a device called the Tembang to stabilise the narrow-shaped hulls. The Tembang is almost identical to the sailing trapeze, a wire that comes from a high point on the mast of a racing dinghy and hooks onto a crew member’s harness. The trapeze is widely used in competitive sailing today. Lim Yi Yong says that in his final year as a student at Cranleigh School, in 1992, he stole a book from its library, which he still owns. The book is titled Down the Wind: A Yachtman’s Anthology (1966). In it there is an autobiographical account by Peter Scott about the circumstances surrounding the invention of the trapeze. Scott claims that he and his fellow sailors invented the trapeze in 1938 along the Thames River in England. There is wide evidence, however, that the Tembang had been in use for generations before that.

Charles Lim Yi Yong studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design, London, graduating in 2001. He is also a former Olympian sailor. In 2002, he participated in documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany. He is a cofounding member of the net-art collective Sea State, to date a series of nine film projects initiated in 2005, focuses on inverting perceptions of sea and land in the island city-state of Singapore, exploring the biophysical, aspirational, and cerebral contours of the Southeast Asian city through the visible and invisible lenses of the sea. It was presented in the Singapore Pavilion, as part of the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), as well as Manifesta 7 and the Shanghai Biennale (both 2008). Other films include: Positive (2015) and All the Lines Flow Out (2011), which received a special mention at the 68th Venice Film Festival (2011). He recently had a solo exhibition titled In Search of Raffles’ Light (2013) at the National University of Singapore Museum. His moving image works have been screened at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Tribeca Film Festival, and the Edinburgh Film Festival.

(Text: EVA 2016, Still (the) Barbarians, catalogue)


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