small works + drawings

“The past is never dead, it’s not even past”[1]. Despite the linearity of passing time, the lived experiences we face are often much less neat and cohesive than they might seem. Actions in the present, affected by those in the past move on to influence the future; all while what we may understand as the past or future is continuously shifting and changing. It is in this process of reflection and contemplation that Ivan Lam finds himself circling, feeling his way into the future of his practice through learning to let go of the past.

‘small works + drawings’ represents a collection of experiments, sketches and thoughts-given-form that had manifested themselves in Lam’s studio in the past decades, living evidence of his process that finally see themselves thrust in the spotlight, serving as both the content and inspiration for his new collection.

The small works on exhibition are a combination of past and new experiments that follow a similar vein of material exploration. Unlike many of the monumental works which he has produced in the past, these small pieces represent a reprise that is almost a form of play. There is a decided intimacy in these objects, from the earnest curiosity that that they embody, to their smaller than 2ft size, perfect for being held in the hand or on the lap. They are a representation of the thoughts and experiences that have lived and left his studio space, memories that still affect his practice today. Due to their origin as experiments, they are also by nature, un-monumental, objects with no real end-date, and no real stake or pressure to be perfect in any certain way; a trait that is perhaps, what Lam finds most charming about them.

The past however, is never as dead as we think it is. In resurrecting these studies, their significance becomes all the more apparent, to the extent where their urgency takes them out of the studio and into the gallery. Much like unearthing a history redefining archaeological find, Lam invites us to rediscover these old and new experiences with him, shining a light on the so called ‘supporting cast members’ of his art practice. It is these studies that evolved into fully fledged works, that then go to inspire the creation of more studies; the past reviving itself, remaking itself and extending beyond itself into the present and future, again and again.

As part of this reflection and introspection into the past, particularly when considering his focus on reviewing evidences of his past studio work, it is incredibly apt that Lam would also return to the simplest of mark making tools: the pencil. 12 black and white beetles carrying motifs of skulls all arranged in a giant circle is ‘death bug clock’, a piece which perfectly illustrates this concept of the indifference of passing time, using insects as the vehicle for announcing an impending doom of sorts. The symbolism is easy to follow here, with the beetles acting as a timer towards the end as, should insects actually begin to go extinct, humans are forecasted to follow soon after. The use of black pencil on white paper here also represents the binary nature of life and death, a reminder that time on earth is indeed limited.

With all this exploration into time, and the threads that bind our past, present, and future, Lam finds at the end of the day, that exact chronology does not truly matter. His reflections on the past, and future endings is ultimately a way to bid these reflections, and a period of time in his studio, farewell. “I was a part of it, I am a part of it, but I am not going to be a part of it”. While distance may give things – history, memory, an art practice – some linear shape, the reality of it is inevitably full of returns and re-awakenings, all leading to what may be, in some sort of way, a final end.

[1] William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun, 1951, pp. 42.

‘‘small works + drawings’ is featured at Wei-Ling Gallery until 7 July 2020.

Wei-Ling Gallery is located at 8, Jalan Scott, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur 50470, Malaysia.

Please call +60322828323/ +60322601106 or email: for more information.