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Oct '05

“Building Primal Bonds,” By David Chew

IF ARTIST Michael Lee told you that we love buildings because they remind us of our mother’s womb, would you think he was crazy? Lee’s latest work, NOTES TOWARDS A CORPOREAL CITY, aims to show precisely that.

It is part of ASIAN TRAFFIC, a touring exhibition that will showcase 10 of the most significant Asian and Asian-Australian artists practising contemporary art today. Curated by Binghui Huangfu, director of the Asia-Australia Arts Centre, the show premieres tomorrow at the Esplanade’s Jendela Gallery.

Buildings are more than functional. Lee’s argument is a culmination of ideas gleaned from historians who trace the evolution of buildings to psychological approaches. “People use buildings functionally– office space to work, the bedroom to sleep. But that may not be the most instinctual way that we respond to a building,” noted Lee, who also teaches art history, theory, studio and professional space at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

“Buildings provided nostalgia for the body– we use buildings to cope with the initial trauma of having left our mother’s body. They moderate that pain and loss and, at the same time,pay homage to the idea of space and physical comfort,” he added.

The fact that we have a primal relationship with physical structures around us stems from the fact that we enjoyed dirtying and touching the walls of the house we grew up in, Lee said. This is also something he tries to explore through his work.

“In my work, I try to revisit this primal relationship between the human body and physical structures,” added Lee, who, incidentally, isn’t a trained architect.

The 33-year-old is widely recognised in Singapore as an established artist who has not only had a very successful solo exhibition, but also as a published writer,critic and curator.

A previous project Lee did was a video-cum-digital-photography exhibition of the Gallery Evason Hotel, titled CARESSING THE GALLERY. Here, he portrayed human sensuality within the physical structures of the building.

His installation for ASIAN TRAFFIC was also about looking at buildings as more than mere physical structures. Creativity knows no boundaries. “I start off every project with a simple question: Which aspect of the body does a city remember? If a city had a mind or heart that could remember, which aspect of the human body would it remember?”

Lee feels his cardboard installation of Notes Towards a Corporeal City consists of “many different postures from angled slopes which can look like a pair of human legs or limbs.

To me, this is significant–like a heart or brain frozen in time. All this is made from a single square tile of cardboard each. It proves that a generic square tile of white cardboard has endless creative possibilities,” Lee muses.

And contrary to what one may assume, this creativity can be applied to Singapore too.

Asked if Singapore,for all its generic and often characterless HDB flats,can also be a representation of our primal selves, Lee remarked: “If you take time to visit Singaporean flats, different households actually do quite individualistic things. It is remnant of the endless possibilities within each of the generic white cardboard tiles. They respond to the fixed module quite individualistically. And that is one very positive quality of Singaporeans– that they are very adaptive …even if they have to do it within a fixed space,” he said.

what: Asian Traffic
when: tomorrow till July 12
where: Esplanade, Jendela
Visual Arts Space

There will also be a forum on the exhibition on June 18 with the curator and participating artists on the theme “Transnational Culture.”

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