Contemporary artist H.H. Lim uses any method he can to get his ideas across.
It is difficult to pin down exactly what H.H. Lim does as an artist. From energetic ink drawings to hypnotic video installations to nailing his tongue onto a table, the neo-conceptual artist’s works run the gamut from beautiful to bizarre. And yet, through them all runs a thread of engagement and introspection of the here and the now, and a desire to break down contemporary experiences to their individual parts.
Born in Kedah and raised in Penang, Lim found his way to art in 1976 in Rome, Italy. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome (from 1967) and continued to live in the city state, and immersed himself in the art scene there ever since. His artful resume ranges from painting, sculpture, installation, video and performance.
In the following decades, his works have been exhibited at numerous prestigious venues and events around the world – most recently, he showed at the 2013 Prague Biennial, the 2013 Venice Biennial, and the National Centre for Contemporary Arts in Moscow, Russia.
With his latest solo exhibition, The Beginning Of Something, at Wei-Ling Contemporary gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Lim situates aspects of current daily life within the larger universal cycle of life and death.
It is his first full show in Malaysia, and Lim admits that he was initially hesitant about completely unleashing his creativity here.
“It’s that thought that, now that I’m in my hometown, maybe I should behave myself,” he says.
“I was ambivalent about whether I should tell the real story of how I saw the world. Because the real story is not just beautiful publicity; it’s dirty, it’s embarrassing, and it’s the artist’s job to tell it. But (Wei-Ling Contemporary founder and owner) Wei-Ling was brave enough to encourage me to tell one part of the real story.”
The works in the exhibition represent the culmination of several different inspirations. A scarlet landscape painting of flying helicopters, formed by vigorous scribbles of acrylic, is reminiscent of the iconic scene from Apocalypse Now with its immediate association with war and violence.
Yet, beneath that surface, the piece, called Hard Rain, is also a reflection on our constant quest for hope - it has its inspiration in Akira Kurosawa’s short film Sunshine Through The Rain, in which a boy sets off in search for the root of a rainbow.
“My main idea is to search for the root of the rainbow, so for me, the piece is very hopeful, it’s about making dreams come true,” Lim explains.
The Beginning Of Something also engages with the idea of consumerism and its prevalence in modern life.
“It began with me realising how quickly I consume my ideas. I make one thing, and then it’s gone. Similarly, the way we consume material goods are so fast, so constant,” says Lim.
In the installation piece What I Need Is Love, luxury watches and jewellery are displayed haphazardly in a dustpan, a commentary on the perceived and inherent value of these prized products.
“It is not a moralistic piece, but more a confrontation of high consumerism and what it says about our priorities and values,” he says.
The entire exhibition, Lim says, is tied together with the idea that is expressed in its title, The Beginning Of Something, which carries with it a subtext of consuming and being consumed.
“I am very interested in this idea of something becoming nothing, and conversely, nothing becoming something,” he explains. “That is the cycle of consumerism.”
Tiger And A Box On A Trolley, for instance, is an installation in which an ink drawing by Lim is crumpled up and displayed in a glass display case on a trolley – a literal depiction of that cycle, of something becoming nothing and then being made into something again.
The idea was executed on a large scale at the launch of the exhibition, where a massive ink drawing of 11 tigers and two goats, carrying a seven-figure price tag, was completed by having ink poured on it and getting guests to walk over it.
“My intention with that piece was to examine the concepts of ‘something’ and ‘nothing’. The work of art may end up becoming nothing, but then that nothing could become something too,” says Lim.
To him, the blurred space between traditional, contemporary and performance art that he works in is not a considered decision, but rather, a natural progression of his ideas.
“I am an artist because I have something to say,” he says. “Artists have to fight so hard to convince you, we’re always saying ‘Hear me, hear me!’. So as an artist, you have to grab whatever that helps you say what it is you want to.”
The Beginning Of Something by H.H. Lim is showing daily, 10am to 9pm till March 31 at Wei-Ling Contemporary (G212 and 213A, Ground Floor, The Gardens Mall, Kuala Lumpur). For more information, call 03-2260 1106 / 03-2282 8323 or visit weiling-gallery.com.