NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore is embarking on an inquiry into natural materials, exploring the knowledge they embody as biological forms as well as within social, geopolitical, and historical contexts. Trees of Life – Knowledge in Material is part of the Centre’s long-
© ArtCatalyse International / Marika Prévosto 2018. All Rights Reserved
This exhibition focuses on four plants deeply rooted in Asia: indigo (Indigofera Tinctoria), lacquer tree (Toxicodendron Vernicifluum), rattan (Calamoideae), and mulberry (Morus). The works trace the ongoing involvement with the highlighted plants in the artistic practices of Manish Nai with indigo, Phi Phi Oanh with lacquer, Sopheap Pich with rattan, and Liang Shaoji and Vivian Xu with mulberry silk. While the featured installations serve as a starting point to uncover the materiality of the chosen plants, the study of their natural and cultural DNA allows further exploration into their biological processes and diverse usages at their locale.
The artworks intertwine with selected research documents that address the complex histories and circulation, as well as the effects of human intervention on these natural resources. Starting from the properties and characteristics of the materials themselves, the project expands into their cultural representation and significance for communities and their crafts.
Manish Nai (b. 1980, India) concentrates on the material qualities of the various substances he utilises in his work. Using the colour indigo (indigo dye), itself loaded with a multitude of representations and associations, this opens up the visual form to subjectivities in the interpretation of the medium throughout time.
Phi Phi Oanh’s (b. 1979, United States/Vietnam) work is informed by her inquiry into lacquer as a material combined with her studies of the Vietnamese lacquer painting (sơn mà) tradition. Drawing from the hybrid nature of her personal history, Oanh constructs pictorial and evocative installations.
Trained in painting, Sopheap Pich’s (b. 1971, Cambodia) foray into the sculptural is driven by a desire to work with natural materials indigenous to his home country. Rattan’s strength, durability, lightness, and incredible malleability allow him to create organic, abstract forms that have become a signature of his practice.
For almost three decades, Liang Shaoji (b. 1945, China) has been working with unusual collaborators—silkworms—using the life process of these insects as a medium. His work embodies the broader ecology of the particular mulberry species that extend their manifestation from botanic origin to the organic life the trees sustain (silkworms), as well as the material culture it, in turn, produces (silk).
Vivian Xu’s (b. 1985, China) practice focuses on the exploration and intersection of electronic and bio media. While creating new forms of machine logic, life, and sensory systems, Xu explores the possibilities of designing a series of hybrid bio-
The longstanding social and cultural practices associated with indigo, lacquer, rattan, and mulberry silk have accumulated a vast repository of knowledge, whether formal or tacit. Beyond the format of the exhibition, topical days with talks and seminars will be dedicated to each of the four materials, further investigating their social applications over centuries in terms of their materiality, cultural references, or expanded ecology, and as arising from technological advancements. The lectures, panels, talks, and workshops will feature the participating artists, as well as craftsmen, scientists, ethnobotanists, anthropologists, scholars, non-
The topical days will take place on July 21—Lacquer; August 25—Rattan; September 1—Indigo; and September 8—Mulberry.
The project Trees of Life – Knowledge in Material is led by Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, NTU CCA Singapore and Professor, NTU School of Art, Design and Media (ADM); Laura Miotto, Associate Professor, NTU ADM and Co-
Liang Shaoji, Lonely Cloud, 2016. Wood, silk, cocoons, steel pipes, 245 x 428 x 114 cm. Courtesy the artist.