Vanitas symbols and motifs + installation

Pieter Claesz
Pieter Claesz

Vanitas – Still Life, Pieter Claesz, 29.5 × 34.5 cm (11.6 × 13.6 in), Oil Painting

A vanitas painting contains collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures; it exhorts the viewer to consider mortality and to repent. (

Using motifs to symbolise the futility of life, the presence of death, mortality and the transient nature of life. It’s is more commonly seen in paintings but branches out to the other art forms such as ceramics and in more modern times, installations.

Skulls -a clear memento mori message or the transience of life, a universally recognized symbol of death.

Bubbles -the brevity of life and suddenness of death

Hourglass / Clock -time is limited and is passing, therefore, use it wisely.

Candles –  the futility of the moment, the transience of human life and the certainty of the end of all existence.

Verena Friedrich is an artist that ties in the concept of a vanitas painting which is normally done in the visuals of a still-life, but displaying it in her own way as installations. The simplicity of the installation contrasting with the heavy thought provoking ideology behind it provides a perfect balance which I’m interested in representing in my FYP.

A soap bubble usually remains stable for only a few moments – it is a perfectly formed sphere with an iridescent surface that reflects its surroundings. However, due to the force of gravity and the thinning of the membrane it bursts after a few seconds and is irretrievably lost. As one of the classical vanitas symbols the soap bubble traditionally stands for the transience of the moment and the fragility of life.

The installation VANITAS MACHINE addresses the desire for eternal life and the potential of life-prolonging measures. Based on a candle which – by means of technical intervention – burns down very slowly, VANITAS MACHINE creates a contemporary analogy to the endeavour of prolonging the human lifespan with the help of science and technology.

Being one of the classical vanitas symbols, a burning candle recalls the futility of the moment, the transience of human life and the certainty of the end of all existence. But is this end really still inevitable?



Everything is art–AFM4 (unable to embed,Embedding disabled by request)

In the first in a series of video interviews, Adrian Searle sits down with artist Ryan Gander to discuss his irreverent and thought-provoking work. Gander explains: ‘It’s just being interested in the world. It’s enjoying keeping your eyes open and your wits about you.’

Quotes from Adrian Searle

“Living is a creative art…”

“Creativity is embedded in living…”

“… starting point and catalyst for people’s thinking”

“… if your eyes are open, everything is absurd.”









I is… (I), 2012, marble, dimensions variable (it is actually a cast of his daughter’s attempt at making a fort at home, and taking a closer look, one could see the outline of the objects the daughter used)

Andrian Searle opened my eyes to how art is not confined to what is out there in the museums or what is deemed “art”. He taught me the lesson of how our lives are art itself and that we just have to observe. Observation is the hard part now, with how our lives are going with the fast paced media and culture the world is heading towards. Not just plain observation but really connecting with the little things, seeing the observation beyond it’s physicality, but what it truly means to you. Connecting this to my project, it opened my mind to the idea that existence is far more than just looking inwards and observing oneself, it’s the connection to what’s around you.

His quote about how everything is absurd if your eyes are open struck a chord with me in regards to the absurdity in life and how people shy away from the absurdity to be “normal”. I figured that my existential crisis and the questions I was asking all led to a certain point of conformity and how I didn’t want to question these conformities as it’ll led to the freedom of making decisions which in turn will led to responsibility, aka bad faith.

Thus to sum up,

My existential crisis = How I may not fit well into what society wants me to be.

For my final works, I want to acknowledge the absurdity in life, using art. Challenging society perspective of what art should be and breaking the conformity that has been restricting me.

The one thing to say about art is that it is one thing. Art is art-as-art and everything else is everything else. Art as art is nothing but art. Art is not what is not art.

Ad Reinhardt

Art isn’t the stronghold of the elite, it is everywhere, it surrounds us.”

Ryan Gander

FYP Abstract draft 2 : 25

School is ending in less than a year, and with that also brings an end to the comfort zone of predictability. At the same time, I am 25years old, a quarter of a century,  I feel lost, directionless and fearful of the unknown that is the future. To tackle this issue, I decided that my existence would be where my questioning will start, constructing an inner dialogue, to embrace the anxiety of the future using the present, the now. My ‘material’ and ‘medium’ will be time, as it is both the source of my hope and fear.

Through the journey of this project, what I seek is not answers but rather questions that lingers on as a remainder to be present in the now.

FYP Abtract Draft 1 : 25

School is ending in less than a year, and with that also brings an end to the comfort zone of predictability. The uncertainty of the future along with the expectation set upon by the years of conditioning by the Singapore culture of “kiasu-ism” and “kiasi-ism” scares and worries me greatly. At the same time, I am 25years old, a quarter of a century, thus naturally the thought of death is also part of what scares me for the future. However not just my death, but the death of my loved ones and not knowing how much time I have left with them.

With all these thoughts in my head, it had me questioning myself on my existence and my understanding of time in relation to the future.
Thus this project will be for me to explore my own existence with time as my guide to navigate the uncertainty of the future, searching for the right question, not the answer.

Art in Singapore: Context from Current Generation Artists

Artists featured

  • Wong Lip Chin
  • Ruben Pang
  • Donna Ong
  • Gilbert & George (UK)

Key take-away points

In Singapore, there isn’t a sense of individualism, as from young, we are taught to stay within the line and not to stand out or be different, unlike the culture in the west. But a contemporary artist is an individualist, thus being an artist in Singapore, there is tension.

We are all taught to fit into the system, get a white collared job, be a banker. High rise buildings everywhere. It’s from these situation that our art is affected.

To paraphrase Ruben Pang, the attitude of the artist, if we grew up with the pre-conceived notion that we are being watched (controlled environment /system), there is without a doubt, a degree of self censorship that we do on a subconscious level. We don’t know how deeply it is in our vines already but I guess we are plugged into the system.

Donna Ong ended by saying “Art comes from a certain lack and in a place like Singapore, in a place so controlled, art is as a uncontrollable factor, it is all the more pertinent”.

I guess the “I” is affected not only by one’s own consciousness but the surroundings and cultural upbringing plays a huge role in shaping one’s thinking.



FYP Abstract : Exploration of I


Propose a project: What are the reason(s) or aims for doing project?

With graduation just around the corner, the unknown of life itself awaits, and it frightens me. As a Singaporean, life has always been structured from young. The next step in life is always planned out, pre-school, primary school, secondary school, polytechnic then national service and ending with university. So why does the unknown after university life frightens me? It hit me then, it was the freedom.

To embrace the freedom of life, one has to know about one self, otherwise the freedom given is damning and feels like a deep abyss full of fear and doubts. The fear of what job should I take, will I be happy, will it be a fulfilling future, will I live a life of regret, death, all this insecurity and fear boils down to the lack of understanding of one self.

Thus the project I’m proposing will be a journey of self exploration using the concept of Time and one’s Consciousness as a guide to find the right questions to ask.

An intense consciousness about Time, Space and Existence puts your own existence in a larger perspective, shows you how small you are, makes you realize the importance and beauty of being alive and makes you aware and accept the ‘finalness’ of death.

Rene Rietmeyer

Design/ Methodology/Approach: How are the objectives achieved? Include the main method(s) used for the project. What is the approach to the topic and what is theoretical or subject scope of the project?

The objectives will be explored through the methods of Self Observation and Self Reporting. (TBC)

My main artist references

  • On Kawara
  • Roman Opalka
  • Rene Rietmeyer
  • Rebecca Solnit

The artists chosen above are due to the connection I felt with their works and their ideology of life itself. I’ll further explore and breakdown their concepts and through these form my own set of guidelines to follow in my work.

Findings: What was discovered while working on the project? Analysis discussion results?

I discovered that to question one’s understanding and take on what ‘time’ is to one self is a key opening to the journey. The concept of time differs from people to people, and this affects greatly their outlook of life and the way one react to living.

The conscious experience of something in the future is unthinkable as a subject. Thus, ” we humans perceive time only as a result of memory. If we had no conscious memory, we would not be aware of time at all; we would only see the Now. The result of having memory and the creation of our way of measuring time cause our perception of time to appear as a line.” Rene Rietmeyer


Tatsuo Miyajima’s (Japanese Artist) personal interpretation of time:

1.keep changing

2.continues forever

3.connect with everything


“Pure Duration” is the form taken by the succession of our inner state of consciousness when our self let itself live, when it abstains from establishing a separation between the present state and anterior state(before time/ earlier/ past).

“Clock time” does not reflect and can only distort what we perceived as the inner experience of time. This experience is resolutely accessible through thought and language, since it is composed of sensations, emotions and prehensions(an interaction of a subject with an event or entity which involves perception but not necessarily cognition.), of qualities in a constant and indivisible state of flux.

Henri Bergson, Philosopher


Originality /Value: What is new in your project? State the value of your project and to whom?

The concept of the self have been explored throughout time by philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke and many others. Artists too have been exploring this concept and many others. I’m no different from these people, seeking a deeper meaning and understanding of one’s life. But everyone has their own interpretation of the self, some similar to others, but always with their own personal take on it. What’s new in my project is that there is only one Benjamin Sim Guang Min living this life now and my self exploration will be my own journey.

Through this self exploration, I hope the right questions I manage to ask myself will inspire other like-minded people like me who are lost in the uncertainty in life and fearful of the unknown that is to come, to look into their own inner self and seek a deeper understanding, setting off on to their own exploration.

Keywords: Keywords act as search terms and are like entry points to your project

Self, Time, Consciousness, Exploration, Unknown

Proposal : Self.

2016-07-02 09.25.18 1












Keywords : Time, Self, Observation, Present, Discovery, Consciousness, Language


This is the final year of school, once one graduates, the real world beckons. But how can one face the real world without knowing who one is and what one wants.


A project on finding oneself through a series of self observation exercises/mini projects. It is in essential a project of self discovery and maturation of one “soul”.


Self observation and meditative works that is done analogue –> digital. Info-graphic compilation of daily observation into a main body of work that connects emotionally.

*Adding more once I get a final gist of my overall fyp work.