Jason Lim’s “Duet of Light”

Jason Lim’s performances are comprised of the subtlest actions. He unspools thread, holds up sheets of glass with his partner, stacks wine glasses, balances rocks and trees on his head and body, and burns candles on his fingers and on his objects. Dressed simply and not terribly fashionably in all black, his hair tied into a neat bun, Lim makes magic from these objects, obsessively engaging with them over long periods of time. His actions are measured and meditative. Being with his work is to enter into the durational event in which linear time collapses and folds back in on itself. The end, although anticipated for a long time, is always a surprise, because by that time Lim’s audience, at least those who have stayed with him for the duration of the performance are completely caught up in the time of the piece. But still, there is a subtle shift in energy. Lim inclines his body slightly, sets something down, steps away. And the piece is done.

Lim is a performance artist—a very successful artist who recently represented Singapore in the Venice Biennale. In another incarnation, he would have been a Jain aesthetic, a Hindu saint, a Buddhist monk, or a Stylite saint. What Lim does is more akin to the work of the religious saints, many of whom underwent great privations in the service of their religious vision. Lim’s work is about taking the audience to a difference space, one in which time is no longer measured by the clock, and object no longer categorized by their monetary value. Lim starts with the most basic of objects: a spool of thread, sheets of paper, a rock, a glass of water, candles. From these objects he creates a performance that can last for several hours or several days. The visual imagery of Lim’s work is spare and elegant. It comes from a place that exceeds the written word, or even spoken language, a place that is not so much pre-linguistic as extra linguistic—the language of our interconnectedness as humans.

For The 2014 Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival, Lim performed “Duet with Light” in the Electrodes Space (the front windows of Defibrillator performance art gallery). Lim begin the piece in the left side window space. Barefoot and garbed in his trademark black clothing, Lim held aloft a rock while standing under 8 bags of saline solution, dripping slowly like rain or tears. Eventually, the rock became too heavy. His arms visibly shaking, Lim slowly lowered the rock to the floor, laid down next to it, and place the rock on his head. At a certain point, the action was completed—the saline water had had little effect on the rock but had eroded the artist a great deal. Lim gently released the rock and moved to the other window.

Water, heaviness, and erosion were balanced with fire, light, and warmth. Lim produced a candle—the type used for birthday cakes–lit it, and allowed the hot wax to drip on his finger, into which he embedded the burning candle. Candles were added to his other fingers, eventually creating a candelabra. Candles were added to the tops of candles that had burned down so that the light never went out. The melting wax and the movements of Lim’s hand created a small sculpture—a record of the 3-hour duration. Lim finally extinguished the candles and gently set the fragile wax sculpture down. He retrieved the rock, which had remained under the saline drip, and placed it in the front of the fire window. Lighting one last candle, he placed it on the rock and withdrew, taking with him the tiny wax sculpture. For a time, the candle burned on the rock, and then, finally, there was no record left of the performance.

RP14 performance photo by Cynthia Bond.
Jennie Klein is an associate professor of art history and critical theory at Ohio University. She writes on feminist art, art and the maternal, feminist performance, and performance art and its histories. She is the editor of Letters from Linda M Montano, (Routledge 2005), The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art (Demeter Press, 2011) and Histories of Live Art (Palgrave 2012). She is currently working on a book about the work of Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens.