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"The Last Chairs" in George Town

When I first saw this stack of chairs from afar, I thought the street hawkers in Penang found a new, creative way to save space. A friend who loves old chairs even wanted to haul them away.  “I wanted to rescue the chairs as I thought somebody had abandoned them on the street!”

The artistically stacked chairs is actually a public art installation by Malaysian-born, contemporary artist Leon Lim. The work was created live on the junction of Union Street and Penang Street, in the spirit of celebrating George Town’s living essence.

The Last Chairs is an original work that continues Leon’s fascination to explore configurations with historical and social narratives. While we are all too familiar with old and damaged chairs in the neighbourhood of George Town, Leon sees them beyond its ordinary purpose.

For Leon, the installation is more about taking objects out of their normal context, and separating them from their function so they become living representation of our culture and society.

Through a common friend, I managed to catch up with Leon and chatted with him on his work.

The Last Chairs represents the last generation of George Town, the older people who have grown up and lived here all their lives. Those who have shaped what George Town is today.” Leon said when asked what these chairs mean to him.
“That’s what I had in mind when I pieced these chairs together. But I want people to share their own interpretations and use their experiences to give voice to the living essence of this installation.”

“It’s hard to get new concepts out in our country. In the 60s, there was a group of artists who wanted to do public art in Malaysia, but the attempt was in vain. Therefore, public art hasn’t taken off here even though it is well celebrated in the art world.” Leon explained. “Today, I am grateful that George Town Festival has given me the opportunity to showcase this particular form of art.”

Born deaf, Leon Lim spent seven years in Penang where he attended school. In 1998, he made his first sculptural installation “The Anatomy” using old materials found around the streets of George Town. Leon received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Rochester Institute of Technology and has since been living and working in New York.

It was easy to mistake his calm composure for a typical artist temperament at first, but once you get to know him, Leon emerges as an old friend with a big heart. Well-mannered and brimming with self-confidence, Leon is as passionate about issues close to his heart as he is with art.

“There is no difference between the hearing world and the deaf when comes to art. Our perception toward art is influenced by our own experiences. If I wasn’t deaf, my art would be different.”

“If you have a passion, go for it. Be consistent, work hard and don’t give up. I want to encourage people in Asia especially in Malaysia to enjoy art and life. Life is not just about the material world.” 

Leon also has a dream to set up a contemporary art museum in George Town, Penang. However, he knows that a massive art project like this will need substantial funding and solid support from all levels.

I asked if he is keeping faith that his vision will come true some day. He smiled and acknowledged that there is much to be done.

The Last Chairs is a larger-than-life installation that has added a new artistic dimension to George Town's rich heritage and cultural treasures.
{The Last Chairs, when viewed at night, exhibits the different periods in time. Some parts of the chairs seem to diminish under the cover of light, rendering a past that is no longer here. }

More about Leon Lim
Leon’s work has been shown in several museums and galleries around the world such as World Financial Center Art Gallery in New York, Total Museum of Contemporary in Seoul, CAFA Art Musuem in Beijing, and the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

Leon also served as an art director and set designer in the US-based film production for short films such as The Permanent Grave and The Caretaker. He has been an advocate for deaf education, American Sign language, and arts education in Southeast Asia, and was recognised as "The Deaf Person of the Month" by Deaf Life magazine. 

To read more about Leon's work, click here.


Christina Schweighofer said...

Love this! I imagine the different surroundings these chairs might have come from, the lives that are intertwined in the jumble, people having conversations across the miles and years...

Reese said...

That's a powerful and fitting rendition, Christina. The art evokes lots of memories. Thanks so much for contributing your comment.

Reese said...

That's a powerful and fitting rendition, Christina. The art evokes lots of memories. Thanks so much for contributing your comment.