Courtesy of Cornell University

February 1, 2018

Escaping the Exclusive Preserve — A discussion of William Lim: The Architect and his collection

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Once an architecture student at Cornell, William Lim has since had a transformative effect on the artistic landscape. His style is concise yet evocative, and his works represent a compelling intersection between art and architecture — a sublime pursuit of elegance removed from the exclusive preserve of the museum. In addition to his role as a prolific creator he has maintained an impressive art collection, exercising a particular emphasis on representing the artists of his native Hong Kong. Located in the John Hartell Gallery in the Sibley Dome until March 15, William Lim: The Architect and His Collection exhibits a stunning selection from the artist’s collection and from his own works.

One of the particularly moving pieces of the exhibition is Pastoral Music by Samson Young.  While the title offers the suggestion of a tranquil image, the piece itself exposes a much harsher narrative. The artwork is a turbulent coalescence of the sonic and the seen, combining the physical elements of pencil, ink, watercolor, modeling paste and a paper medium with a haunting and agitating soundtrack. The latter’s origin is unknown, but it is a soundscape whose inspirational point of origin is the human experience of conflict. Abstaining from a conventionally myopic and reductive gaze of war — that which often derails the human figure from its humanity — the visual art is greatly enhanced by the accompanying sonic terrain. This richly textured piece takes the form of a centralized horizontal timeline corresponding to the sound file. However, regular intervals of time are eschewed in favor of a temporal understanding rooted in conflict and its inherent irregularities and rectangular blocks of watercolors branch off from this central vein. The dissonance is further accompanied by minimalist symbols and onomatopoeic inscriptions of the auditory output. Screams in the soundtrack, for example, correspond to “AA”s and “AAA”s arranged in a manner evocative of a violent ejection. This chaotic arrangement on the canvas is also suggestive of the dissonance of conflict. The scream, seldom being a voluntary action, is violently wrenched from its person not only as it is delivered in its spontaneity but also through the absurdity evoked by the reduction of the shrieks to a pair of capital letters.

Exploring the some of Lim’s own works, something that immediately draws my attention is the inclusion of preliminary sketches along with the finished models. One piece in particular, Routes, presents a model of two buildings whose sole connective vein is a small bridge of red bamboo. The bridge in and of itself is elegant in design, but it is the breathtaking union between concrete and bamboo, of modernity and tradition, that lends Routes its position as a sublime point of aesthetic convergence. The inclusion of the artist’s sketches is also of comparable importance to the appreciation of the piece, leaving the viewer with a point of context — or quite possibly creating more questions than it resolves. Alongside the ink drawing is his closing inscription: “to create a cavity inside the bamboo ladder that has been displaced by the other object.”


Varun Biddanda is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]