Weight for Weightlessness | Pheng Guan Lee

To visually realise time and one’s psychological weight ultimately captures the essence of existence. What then, makes up the bulk of one’s existential burdens? What forms do the metaphysical take? How do drooping, heavy forces mould a person’s psyche? Pheng Guan Lee smoothens, carves and pieces together the concepts of accumulation, time and weight in Weight/less.

To reflect on the bond between reality and art-making is in fact, a statement on its own. It is no secret that one’s art practice might be rendered difficult to carry on, in the grand scheme of things. The artist has to devote his time to various commitments beyond his eden of art-making. Lee wishes to be free of these real-life burdens, to feel “alive”. While one’s emotional and mental motor for creating work might never slow down, the accumulation of daily struggles may subject the artist to a state of irresolution. Sheer malaise is tangible in his blood, as the artist is held hostage by the anchor of reality and the ironically torturous, unrelenting flow of creative chakra. Hence, to reconcile with hard, heavy truths make up Lee’s centrepiece concept as he describes, “I have to be crushed by the immense weight of being”.

Sisyphus , 2015 (paraffin wax, sand, dimensions variable) sits at the end of a long pathway through the gallery space. Its appearance is of a heavy, huge round ball in which lines demarcate layers of sand. The curation of this piece is captivating as one notices the piece of work, then walks through the path to study it in detail. I could not help but bear comparison with Lee’s art practice in this exhibition as he recognises the burdens in his life and makes conscious attempts to reconcile with them. Possessing an earthly charm to it, Sisyphus is generally light brown in colour, though the colours are speckled due to the granular nature of the sand.

The appearance of the ball makes it heavier than it is, as if it is part of land — indeed, a very faithful and palpable visualisation of a burden. Instead of letting the stone powder rest relaxed on the ground, it is manipulated and held up in this unnatural shape with a narrow base and heavy middle. The general feeling from viewing the sphere is one of discomfort and constriction. Nonetheless, I was struck by the beauty and sophistication surrounding the sleek execution of the work.

The Insomniac , 2015 (2 metal bars, white concrete slab) lies just ahead of the gallery entrance, and is likely to be the first or second thing a viewer may notice. The two bars are barrier holders identical to those used in queues! On the other hand, the white concrete slab is tall and does not allow the viewer to see past its top.

At first, I did not think of going past the barrier to take a closer look at the work, and assumed that it was a generic usage of the barrier to prevent closer access to the work. This may describe how Pheng Guan Lee views his burdens as symbolised by the tall concrete slab. He is not able to see above or through it, however, a force prevents him from ever reconciling with his burden. Slight dissatisfaction was felt as I did not get to enjoy the work up close. Could this have been Lee’s way of telling the viewer how it feels to leave a burden hanging without addressing it?

Lee presents a gripping paradox in Weight/less. He seeks weightlessness in the confrontation with mass. It is stimulating to have the artist play the role of a spiritual healer in the pursuit of better questions towards abstract concepts. Through visuals, cogitation about transcendental issues can be facilitated.

Join Pheng Guan Lee in his grand search for visual forms of mass at LASALLE College of the Arts,  Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, Praxis Space before 26 July 2015.

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