Simryn Gill & Charles Lim Yi Yong:
The Sea is a Field
The Sea is a Field reveals the inner workings of the SAM Fellowship programme. One of the lines of inquiry of the inaugural programme was the artists’ interest in traversing the space that separates them. Put simply, how to travel between Port Dickson and Singapore by sea? As it turns out there is no simple route. In August 2023, a trip was taken, utilising a network of local ferries, between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. This journey was an opportunity to continue a collaborative method the artists have developed, with Charles Lim making observations through video and Simryn Gill through photography and text. With their parallax perspectives, the artists annotate stories of everyday crossings, migrations, and borders that connect to a deep cultural and political history of the region.
The portside warehouse, left in its raw state, becomes a place where the artists navigate distances and proximities between the space of collaboration. The artists consider this less a finished exhibition space than a site that can hold both of their observations and sensibilities — a zone of convergence for their solitary and private undertakings and their public iterations.
Banner: Image courtesy of Simryn Gill.
Simryn Gill (b. 1959, Singapore; lives and works in Port Dickson, Malaysia and Sydney, Australia) works with a wide range of methods for thinking and making, including writing, drawing, photography, printmaking, creating collections of things, altering objects and publishing. Collecting materials and images from her immediate surroundings, Gill generates poetic and philosophical explorations into the places that we inhabit and carry within us. With Tom Melick, she runs Stolon Press, a publisher in Sydney that makes books and pamphlets, and organises occasional meals and conversations between people working in different modes and practices. Gill has had numerous solo exhibitions in institutions such as Art Gallery of New South Wales (2002, 2022), Tate Modern (2006) and Lund Konsthalle (2017). Gill has also participated in many international exhibitions, including the Singapore Biennale (2006), documenta (2007, 2012), Istanbul Biennial (2011, 2022), Venice Biennale (2013) and Dhaka Art Summit (2018).
A former competitive sailor, Charles Lim Yi Yong's (b. 1973, Singapore; lives and works in Singapore) practice stems from his bodily engagement with the natural world, mediated and informed by field research and experimentation with various media. In 2001, he co-founded the media art collective tsunamii.net, whose works explored the infrastructural politics of the internet. Since 2005, he has developed an ongoing body of work entitled SEA STATE, which explores Singapore's political, biophysical and psychic contours through the lens of its relationship with the sea. Lim has participated in numerous international exhibitions, including documenta (2002), Manifesta (2008), Shanghai Biennale (2008), Singapore Biennale (2011), Venice Film Festival (2011), Venice Biennale (2015), Sydney Biennale (2016), Busan Biennale (2020) and Istanbul Biennial (2022).
Simryn Gill & Charles Lim Yi Yong: The Sea is a Field
This table was designed by Vaughan Wozniak O'Connor for Stolon Press, and built by fabricators in Singapore, with assistance from Annabelle Aw. The idea to include a table in the space came from Selene Yap, one of the curators of this exhibition. After visiting Gill’s house in Port Dickson she suggested that Gill’s table be transported to Singapore. The Port Dickson table serves many functions, changing daily depending on guests, meals, the rhythm of work, the time of year. But to relocate Gill’s table to this space would take the centre out of her house, like uprooting a tree, it would risk destroying the home-ecosystem. Gill wrote to Selene: ‘I know you've proposed to bring the PD table to Singapore. I feel this is overworking the proposition. I talked to Tom about it. In Sydney we'd find a way to make a table, we both instinctively said. Tom said let’s do that, in Singapore. I was thinking about the wood that washes onto those un-see-able, unreachable coastlines of Singapore as the material to make it from. Tom thought about all the material that is waste to the building process. We both remembered that almost the entire island is a building site right now. So much plywood, wooden packing crates etc on these sites. Tom has a friend he could ask to help. He could do it in a few days, no problem.’ So it was decided that a table could be built instead. During the making of this exhibition, it has served as a working surface, with Gill using it to write, or simply as a place for museum staff to sit around, eat their lunch, and talk. Over the course of the exhibition, it will be used for artist talks, a book launch, or a place to rest. Mostly, it will be left as an empty surface, mirroring the near-empty space.
1600 x 2200 x 30 mm reclaimed plywood laminated top
Four sets of 25mm thick plywood collapsible leg units
Collection of the artist
For years Gill and Lim have talked about travelling by sea between their respective places of residence, from Port Dickson, Malaysia to Singapore. It was not until a trip to Port Dickson was made – with Lim and the curators arriving from Singapore, and Stolon Press’s Tom Melick joining from Sydney – that the journey by boat finally happened. The group spent two afternoons attempting to map the journey using Google Maps and YouTube videos by amateur Indonesian vlogger-travellers that showed connecting ports and ferry lines. The journey seemed simple enough, though the unfamiliarity of schedules and port towns and visa requirements complicated matters. On the evening of the ferry ride, Gill said to the group ‘We don’t have a long of time to do it. It’s how you work. You turn up. There’s no other way. You find out how to take the next step. Ask the concierge, the taxi driver, somebody at the coffeeshop. Somebody will give you a clue and then you follow it, and you get there.’ The first leg was two hours, from PD’s Penumpang ferry terminal, across the Strait of Malacca to Dumai, Sumatra. Followed by an eight-hour ferry running down the side of Sumatra from Dumai to Tanjung Balai Karimun. The final leg would be a two-hour ferry ride in waters closer to the Riau between Tanjung Balai Karimun to Singapore.
In Sumatra by the Side, Lim retraces the journey in a reverse direction, from Singapore to Port Dickson via the same commercial ferry lines. For this Lim mounted a camera to the ferry’s side windows, setting out to measure and document the three-part journey in real-time without cuts. The video begins at the Singapore Strait, moving into Indonesian waters, and up, along the side of Sumatra before crossing the Malacca Strait to Port Dickson. Lim’s record of the coastline and passage, over 12-hour long, is a survey of pelagic life: port environments, storms, passing vessels and flotsam encountered along the way. When captured through the acceleration of a moving vessel, the footage invites viewers to oscillate between looking and drifting, in which one’s vision is constantly reframed through motion.
Three videos, high definition, single-channel (on loop) with output to LED screen, 32:9 format, 1 hr 05 min (Singapore to Sekupang);
8 hr 11 min (Sekupang to Dumai); 2 hr 30 min (Dumai to Port Dickson); 3D-printed clocks with raspberry pi computer
Collection of the artist
Shallow is an image and text work which responds to the thinking and making that has been a part of this two-year process. For this, Gill drew on conversation between the artists and curators, along with botanists, conservators, and friends the group met during this time. The texts by Gill are annotated with an index of key words, sources the artist has quoted from, handwritten notes, and ongoing writing after the pages were typeset. They are interspersed with images made on film by Gill between Port Dickson and Singapore, which have been run through Stolon Press’s photocopy machine under various brightness settings. Multiplied and extended across the wall, these sheets of paper suggest a book in the making or being unmade, oscillating between writing and drawing, fragmentary narratives, description and recordkeeping. Gill describes the work as reflecting ‘the zones of convergence that the artists and curators have been drawn into – of storms, doldrums, stasis and tempests. There is no fixed line.’ They suggest something of the variable speeds, repetitions and senses of time that unfold in the museum, in the lives of artists and curators, and in this part of the world we inhabit.
Inkjet prints on paper with hand-written annotations
Collection of the artist
Typography by Ruud Ruttens and Jeroen Wille, editing by Tom Melick.
"This photo was taken in 2014. It was taken on the way out of PD jetty, towards the open waters of the Straits of Malacca. Some of the photos on that shoot later were shown under the title of ‘Sweet Chariot’. I had this negative printed because I was interested in the coal barge. The coal is from Indonesia, and at that time a lot of it was coming across to Port Dickson for one of the three power stations in this district, two of which are powered by coal. When I went back to Sydney in 2018, I left this photo in a glass cabinet in my home in Port Dickson. When I came back four years later (covid etc) I found the surface (emulsion) of the photo had been damaged. I think its probably cockroach damage. The emulsion has gelatin in it which would count as food. I think silverfish would have bored through the paper underneath as it’s a fibre-paper." - Simryn Gill
58 x 23.5 cm
Collection of the artist