Singapore-based artist Lim E-Lynn Joanne, also known as Joanne Lim, creates multifaceted, socially conscious artworks. Her practice encompasses various mediums, including photography, video, assemblage, generative, and performance art, all employed to shed light on critical social-political issues.
Her piece, The Definition of Value challenges societal perspectives. It immerses audiences in the precarious reality of migrant workers, offering a unique experience by taking them on a lorry ride down Orchard Road, Singapore's consumerist hub.
Her piece, The Definition of Value challenges societal perspectives by immersing audiences in the precarious reality of migrant workers. The Definition of Value is essentially a tourism booth that sells a ride on the back of a truck, specifically by taking them on an experiential lorry ride down Singapore's consumerist hub, Orchard Road.
This tour allows the participants to put themselves in the shoes of the migrant workers who ride behind the truck, a dangerous practice that has caused lethal accidents, is banned in other countries, and yet persists in Singapore bringing attention to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Decent Work And Economic Growth and Reduced Inequalities.
The piece combines research materials, poster prints, and decals to further bring participants into the experience of purchasing a touristic experience. The result will be an immersive tour that allows anyone to confront the risks and challenges faced by blue-collar workers.
The Definition of Value is a direct take on how, today, Singapore is the only first world country where migrant workers can still be legally transported on lorries, vehicles designed for cargo rather than passengers. Even Singapore’s international business counterparts, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have all banned this practice of transporting migrant workers in lorries.
Activists and NGOs, like Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), have been advocating against this issue for two decades, and yet the Singaporean government and relevant industries show no inclination toward a ban.
Recent lethal lorry accidents in July 2023 have intensified calls for change, but the inertia persists. Business chambers and associations cite complexities and costs as barriers to phasing out lorries, with the senior minister of state for transport emphasizing the potential impact on companies. This reflects a broader culture of prioritizing low-cost labour and competitive profits over the well-being of human lives.
Hence, Joanne Lim’s piece satirically addresses these factors that influence the perceived value of different lives. In her guided tour, she integrates Singapore's legislative status on worker transportation with the historical practices of slum tourism and human zoos. As viewers are taken on the back of the lorry down Orchard Road, Singapore’s crowded shopping hub, they are asked to think of how migrant workers feel on the back of lorries too. How dehumanizing the experience is as pedestrians and onlookers watch on.
The installation also includes a poster titled "Singapore Workplace Health and Safety Report 2019-2022," which presents statistics on all unsavoury incidents, accidents, and deaths resulting from the policy.The poster is also accompanied by a wall decal, which allows viewers to choose how many people get on the back of the lorry with them, ranging from two to 30 people, further provoking a thoughtful examination of societal values around the issue.
According to her artist statement, Joanne Lim, through The Definition of Value, assumes the role of an ordinary citizen engaging in “gentle resistance.” Her approach aims to draw attention and foster discourse on prevailing social issues affecting diverse groups within Singapore, resonating at the intersection of art and activism, making her practice crucial to Singapore's contemporary art scene.