This is part of a series of ekphrastic poems presented alongside ‘Hyphenated’ at The Substation. ‘And on the eighth day’ responds to Eugenia Lim’s ‘Artificial Islands (Interior Archipelago II)’.
About the Artwork
Artificial Islands (Interior Archipelago II)
Collaborative performance installation, sand, plastic
Artificial Islands (Interior Archipelago II) is a manufactured sovereign symbol – an unauthorised sand monument of Singapore’s national icon, the merlion. The merlion is a mythical creature with a lion’s head and the body of a fish. The symbol was designed by Alec Fraser-Brunner in 1964 for the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), which continues to protect the Merlion symbol. Approval must be received from STB before it can be used. No approval has been sought for its use here.
Tracing a line from the mythic (and mostly male) earthworks and conceptual artists of the ‘70s – from Robert Smithson to Bas Jan Ader – to the territorial claims, artificial geographies, free market economies and totalitarian landscapes of South East Asia, the South China Seas and Dubai, Lim’s ongoing body of work Artificial Islands (Interior Archipelago) explores the power dynamics and politics at play in making and marking space. What does it look like to represent a site, a self, a culture or a state?
Within the Anthropocene (the ‘Age of Man’), our current unofficial but widely accepted geological epoch, the border between nature and culture and the ‘authentic’ and ‘artificial’ is becoming increasingly unstable, even irrelevant. From Smithson’s Spiral Jetty to Dubai’s artificial islands, artists and powerbrokers mark and make territory to express selfhood and sovereignty.
Like the Merlion, Singapore is a self-made symbol: reinventing itself from a former occupied colony, into a beacon of neoliberal globalisation. While Singapore is an economic powerhouse and a global player, it has had been governed by the same ruling party, the People’s Action Party, since self-government in 1959. And, with its high income inequality, strong censorship and restrictions of press and civil liberty, it is a ‘flawed democracy’, if not an authoritarian citystate.
Who builds progress? And what is the social cost and value assigned to the labour associated with the construction of monuments and national symbols? Artificial Islands (Interior Archipelago II) is built by local workers remunerated at the average daily rate of a migrantworker in the Singaporean construction industry* under the supervision of Eugenia Lim.
*SING$600 per month or SING$24 per day = AU$22.85 per day Credits
Thank you to workers Katie Page, Emma Woodhams-Bertozzi, Eugenie Thompson, Oxana Sitchuk and Annabelle Gautier; Lauren Crockett and Maxi Walker.
About the Artist
Eugenia Lim is a Melbourne-based artist of Chinese-Singaporean decent who works across video, performance and installation. In her work, Lim transforms into invented personas to travel across time and cultures to explore how stereotypes and national identities cut, divide and bond our globalised world. Lim has exhibited, performed or screened internationally at venues, festivals and fairs.