For artist Justin Lee, life is like chess – just as the King and Pawn go in the same box after a game, so do titles and ranks mean little to him.
His ambivalence about social status, however, does not provide him immunity from questions about his professional title and what he does for a living.
“People I meet for the first time usually ask what I do as an artist – how I spend my time, if I have a company, how I make ends meet,” he says. “I like to say that I am the boss, and I also do the cleaning.”
Of late, he has been busy with a large-scale art installation in the concourse of the Esplanade. The work, titled Game of Life, is reminiscent of a larger-than-life game of Chinese chess. The theatrical set-up includes structures that recall the Chinese chessboard’s grid-like layout, and warrior figures positioned as if in battle.
Lee acknowledges that the work might remind one of the pecking order in society and how people manoeuvre it, even if he is nonchalant about it. But his intention, far from being ironic, is to invite those who come upon his work to consider the games they have played, and how these have shaped their childhoods and identities.
The 55-year-old artist says: “I grew up in a time of nation-building, so I’ve always been interested in what makes us who we are, and the East-meets-West influence on our identity as Singaporeans.”
This is evident in the warrior figures, which though clad in ancient-looking armour, also wear headphones – a reference to Lee’s uniform as a former Republic of Singapore Air Force technician, as well as a symbol of Western street culture.
So, if the grid-like structures in the art installation appear to you more like Tetris blocks than Chinese chessboard patterns, it is not a coincidence. Lee says: “I hope people will be able to connect with the work personally, through their experiences and roles in life.”
Details about Game of Life here.