Beyond the Sea and Back

Published on 26 April 2016

After making a splash at last year’s Venice Biennale, Singapore artist Charles Lim brings his multifaceted work SEA STATE back home.


Last year, artist, film-maker and former Olympic sailor Charles Lim Yi Yong represented Singapore in the 56th Venice Biennale with his internationally-acclaimed work SEA STATE. This month, the ground-breaking, multifaceted project comes home, making its way to the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (CCA).

Curated by Shabbir Hussain Mustafa (pictured with Lim above), senior curator at the National Gallery Singapore, SEA STATE is the first major exhibition of a Singaporean artist that CCA is featuring. Visitors can look forward to an extensive presentation involving digital video works, altered marine charts, a three-dimensional sand model of the seabed around Singapore, and a 5-metre-tall maritime buoy.


SEA STATE examines Singapore’s geopolitical anxieties and the city state’s vexed relationship with the sea. With the support of the National Arts Council, it was featured in the Singapore Pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale, which was attended by more than 500,000 visitors. Being selected for the national pavilion at one of the most significant contemporary art platforms marks a certain level of achievement in an artist’s career. The global exposure gained is another plus. Besides the Venice Biennale, earlier versions of SEA STATE have also been exhibited at Manifesta (2008), the Singapore Biennale (2011), Institut d’Art Contemporain Villeurbanne (2013), and the Osaka Biennale (2013).

This multidisciplinary project has even been featured in influential art journals such as Art Review Asia and Art Forum. The former described the work as “articulating the water and what it contains as an active force” while the latter interpreted the project as “Lim’s way of holding up a mirror to a nation”.

Professor Ute Meta Bauer, founding director of NTU CCA Singapore, is looking forward to presenting this thought-provoking exhibition to local audiences. “It will provide them the opportunity to experience a body of work by one of Singapore’s most prolific artists exhibited on an international stage, and marks a key effort by local institutions in introducing home audiences to the compelling works of Singapore artists,” she says.

PHOTO  Wee Li Lin

Sea State of Mind

Lim has been working on SEA STATE since 2004. As a former national sailor, his contact with the sea made him think about Singapore’s move towards land reclamation and undersea caverns to create more space. He also considered the larger issues these measures bring about, such as territorial sovereignty and the transnational spaces of the sea.

“When we think of a nation as a physical thing, we imagine a landmass. Yet the true border of any country touching the sea is not the edge of the land, but out in the water,” Lim says. “The actual border and the imagined border are quite different, especially for an island like Singapore. SEA STATE makes that border visible. It brings to the fore what is originally kept in the background, the real depths of the sea and our uneasy maritime unconscious.”

Adds Professor Bauer, “SEA STATE is a contemplation of an artist’s profound and cerebral relationship with his environment. It encourages us to reconsider the relationship one has with the sea.”

Charles Lim Yi Yong: SEA STATE is on from 30 Apr to 10 July at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Admission is free. For more information, click here.

Sea This

Dive into an ocean of maritime art.

SEA STATE 0: all the lines flow out

A film about the flow of the drainage system in, through and under Singapore. It received a Special Mention at the 68th Venice Film Festival in 2011, making Lim the first Singaporean to be honoured at this festival.

SEA STATE 1: inside/outside

A photographic series of more than 100 pairs of buoys.

SEA STATE 2: as evil disappears

A barnacle-covered buoy that once marked the location of Sajahat Island, which disappeared from the world’s nautical charts in 2002 due to Singapore’s land reclamation efforts. Lim recently re-sunk this buoy to re-present it for this exhibition.

SEA STATE 7: sandwich

A compelling 14-screen video installation that presents a horizon of land reclamation sites, industrial infrastructures, container ships and a commodified beach.

Festivals & Fairs

The National Arts Council also supported Singapore artists at these famed events.


A three-week summer arts event that presents handpicked artists from across the globe. Last year, Singapore was the featured country with performances by violinist Siow Lee Chin and jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro, among others.


Last year, a Singapore delegation of 16 emerging and established dancers, artistic directors and venue presenters attended this annual contemporary dance festival that takes place in Melbourne, Australia.


Singapore, last year’s guest country of honour at India’s oldest book fair, dispatched a delegation of authors, illustrators and publishers to the event.


In 2014, six book publishers were sent to this large-scale event to explore international partnerships. The rights to several titles were successfully sold to Chinese publishers.


In 2013, Singapore literature was showcased for the first time at this
key event in the publishing world.

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