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Simryn Gill/Matrix 210

MATRIX 210: Simryn Gill Standing Still

February 8 through April 4, 2004

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is pleased to announce the latest exhibition in the acclaimed MATRIX Program for Contemporary Art, an ongoing series dedicated to presenting cutting-edge art and ideas from around the world. MATRIX 210: Simryn Gill Standing Still is a new collection of photographs that explores the idea of time standing still. This ongoing series, which was shot in Malaysia, depicts homes and large building projects that have been abandoned. Many of these were planned and initiated during boom years but which were left unfinished following the regional economic downturn in the late 1990s. MATRIX 210: Simryn Gill Standing Still is the artist's first solo museum exhibition in the United States.

Gill uses photographs, objects, and installations to consider how we experience a sense of place and how both personal and cultural histories inform our present moment. She often begins her photographic projects by posing a question. For Standing Still, Gill queried whether a series of photographs could "hold within them, and between them, that unsettling quality of a sort of hesitation in time, stilled time"—time standing still." Gill, who lives in Sydney, Ausralia, was born in Singapore and raised in Malaysia and shot this series of images on trips home between 2000 and 2003. Many of the works depict the skeletal frameworks of what would have become large shopping centers or apartment blocks, private mansions, and even mini towns. The economic crash changed these fantasies of ultra-modernity into lonely ruins—a transition, as Gill notes, seemingly from "the future to the past without a present."

"I started looking at these strange decaying giants in relation to the older abandoned buildings that seem to punctuate the towns and the countryside in Malaysia," says Gill. "It's hard to know why they have been left to rot. Sometimes it's because they have a bad history, like being used during the war by the Japanese for the kinds of activities that can make places inconsolably haunted; sometimes it's because of family disputes about inheritance and the like, but often they are left and allowed to fall apart simply because they are old." It is in this contrast between the bold vision of the future that these buildings represent, and their current state decay, that Gill finds qualities of timelessness.

Gill often photographs spaces devoid of people. If figures are included, their identities are usually hidden, as in her series A small town at the turn of the century (2001). For this series the artist returned to the community of Port Dickson in Malaysia, where she once lived, and photographed the inhabitants going about their daily lives. In each image, however, the subject's face is obscured by bunches of tropical fruit, forcing the viewer to reconcile the familiar signs of modern life with clichés of "exotic" Malaysia. The strength of Standing Still is in the universality of the themes that Gill captures: nostalgia, melancholy, and also hope.

Simryn Gill lived in Malaysia, Singapore, India and Britain before arriving in Australia. Her work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Finland; the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia; and ArtPace in San Antonio, Texas; and in international group shows including the Sydney Biennial (2002), the Asia Pacific Triennial (1999), the 5th Istanbul Biennial (1997), and the Venice Biennale (1995).

Public Programs
Sunday, February 8, 3 p.m.
Artist's talk, Gallery 1
Simryn Gill will engage in conversation with MATRIX curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson about her exhibition. A reception will follow the discussion.