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Connecting Universally Through Art
Sun Yu-Liʼs Hum of Nature under the Cosmic Dance series was featured on 150,000 EZ-Link cards.
Architect-turned-artist Sun Yu-Li is dedicated to expressing and sharing his “Universal Language” through his sculptures, paintings and collaborative community arts projects.
BY CELINE LIM SU-FEN
PHOTO ALECIA NEO
work trip to Beijing in May 1989 changed everything for architect Sun Yu-Li. First, he had a health scare when he suffered severe heart discomfort returning to his hotel after a tiring day working on an architectural project.
Rushing to compose himself, a long-buried thought flashed through his mind: “How could I have forgotten that I have a dream in life to fulfil?” That dream was to share with the world the “Universal Language”, a formal language for the metaphysical, that he had discovered.
“Einstein called it the Grand Unification Theory, Stephen Hawking called it the Theory of Everything. Both firmly believed that there is an underlying, uniform framework that shapes the process of mankind gaining consciousness and comprehension. The Universal Language is the fundamental platform that holds all knowledge fields together, to make human communication possible,” he elaborates.
Shortly after his health scare, the Tiananmen Square incident happened. He recalls: “I was shocked to see the live television coverage of the June Fourth incident in Tiananmen Square. If I had collapsed in the street that afternoon, who would have attended to me? It was at that moment that I decided to leave the architecture profession.”
Sun, now 67, says the reminder of his mortality refocused his attention on his ongoing quest for the Universal Language, and he decided to use his art practice to promote it to a larger audience. He adds: “Walking away from an established career as an architect was not an easy decision. My family and friends were perplexed.”
WORKING WITH YOUTH
Born in Nanjing, China, in 1948, Sun became a Singaporean citizen in 1987 and has called the island-state home since then.
Today, as one of Singapore’s leading artists, Sun’s sculptures and paintings are sought after both locally and internationally. His artworks can be found in both public and private collections, including the Singapore Embassy in Washington DC and the China Fine Arts Museum in Beijing.
Sun‘s many solo exhibitions in Singapore, China, the United States and England have not only helped build better international understanding between global communities, they have also put Singaporean art on the global map.
In recent years, the artist has worked with youth in Singapore and France in an effort to bridge communities. One such project was a 2013 community arts initiative, which was exhibited as part of the Singapore Art Museum’s (SAM) Art Garden, a popular contemporary art exhibition for children. It forms part of SAM’s ongoing efforts to support meaningful community projects.
For this, Sun worked with more than 750 children to create his work. He first painted a sprawling work of dots and lines across 750 individual canvases, each of which was given to a student between the ages of three and 12.
The students added to the artist’s design by using coloured paint before the canvases were reassembled and installed in SAM from May to September 2013.
The collaborative result was Love, Revolve The World – a large-scale painting that reflects the diversity and shared connections in the universe. Sun says: “It was a treat for the young participants to see their art being featured in the museum, and I was glad to have so many collaborators joining me in the Universal Language movement.”
The Universal Language’s principles of dot, line and plane can be seen in his artworks, such as his Abundance III bronze sculpture at Suntec City in Singapore. Viewed from different angles, the sculpture is at once a three-dimensional ring, a two-dimensional trapezium and a vanishing ellipse. Sun believes that the Universal Language “resonates with anyone and everyone”, bridging cultures, bringing diverse communities together and focusing differences into a single “dot”.