narrow road to the interior

Lindy Lee
Atrium Space @ MITA, Singapore
5-19 March, 2003

'Narrow Road to the Interior', a first Singapore solo exhibition of predominantly recent work by Lindy Lee, was recently opened at the City-State's government MITA Building. Originally slated for larger gallery premises in the city's Esplanade arts center, at the last minute, organisers pared down their show to twelve works to fit the smaller Atrium Space.

Both pigment-and-wax abstract panel compositions-the artist's signature adaptation of traditional Chinese calligraphy markings-and characteristic figural works in the same media were included, the latter being the more compelling of the two.

Continuing her exploitation of repeated photocopied family portraits begun several years ago, Lee featured three 'Book' works of 2002 from her series 'Ocean of Coming and Going'. Visually dynamic in their accordionfolded horizontal installation, they presented family icons at eye-level. Bringing together the sensitivity of portraiture and the self-referencing of autobiography, the ‘Books’ dated images, musty in period dress, spoke of a timeless, ill-defined but universal yearning that transcended the artist's personal history and family. Their book format-the accordion form borrowed from Chinese tradition-lent visual immediacy, imparted a sense of narrative and suggested the familiarity and intimacy associated with books, giving the works further broad appeal. Displayed closely one above the other on parallel shelves, though somewhat soldierly in appearance, the three 'Books' worked well in the small, enclosed Atrium space. Inviting 'reading', their many histories nearly palpable, they stood out as the exhibition's most formally innovative and engaging works.

The themes of identity, memory, and cultural displacement that Lee, as a first generation Australian of Chinese descent, has been addressing for several years, are particularly relevant in ethnically and culturally diverse Singapore. While politically correct social policies in the tightly controlled City-State dictate national cohesion, the reality of cultural and racial opposition, not to say conflict, simmers stubbornly under the surface. Indeed, if Lindy Lee's cryptic exploration of roots and the discomfort of personal trans-migration strike a chord here, it is perhaps because the local population, all of 20th century immigrant stock, in all its disparate strands, lives with the nagging ambivalence of programmed political homogeneity in tandem with underlying cultural divides.

In the context of Singapore, one could thus be tempted to read Lee's work as a critique of an historically revisionist nationalistic agenda. But this would be to ignore its personal dimension as a sensitive evocation of self. Its very subtlety, references to the paradoxes of Zen Buddhism, and otherwise broad register of obliquely-stated ideas do however lend it a power of suggestion that can prove difficult to ignore, particularly in a context where practice can be more literal in its tackling of similar themes. Suggestive works such as Lindy Lee's, with their allusion to unnamed discomforts, could not find a more receptive audience than Singapore.