As an extension of her research into the plantations of Southeast Asia and their colonial histories, including those of migrant labour and structures of production and power, Priyageetha Dia explores gaps in historical records that are not only text-based, but also non-textual ones such as photographs, artefacts and oral interviews.
Sap Sonic, 2023
Four-channel sound installation, green LED tube lights, 14 min
Her resulting four-channel sound installation Sap Sonic is a sonification of images from the photo album of the Sumatra Caoutchouc Company, a rubber planting company in the Dutch East Indies, from the archives of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. The album charts the growth of palm oil and rubber trees in the company’s plantations in Sumatra in the first half of the 20th century, documenting its operations, landscapes and activities.
Beyond their visual representations, the images bear witness to the power dynamics at play between the coloniser and labourers, evident in their postures, gazes, and spatial arrangements; as well as the hierarchy between nature and machine. Reframing this landscape from a visual to a sonic one, Sap Sonic serves as an aural gateway to the plantations as it delves into the lived yet unspoken experiences of those who work on and inhabit the plantations, both human and nonhuman. Emulating a uniform and controlled green lighting environment, Sap Sonic reflects the artificial and human-engineered nature of a monochromatic environment. Perceiving that which is not visible from the images or historical narratives, Dia reimagines and deconstructs plantation soundscapes by sampling, mixing and manipulating found sound files including the synthesis of frequencies from image to sound conversion and AI voice modulation. From pulsating and echoing strengths marked by oscillatory and spatial disturbances, the resulting sonic tapestry represents a liminal space where past and present, real and imagined, intersect and converse with each other.
Sap Script, 2023
White latex paint, black enamel paint
Lettering design: Studio Darius Ou
Accompanying the work, Sap Script is a text installation in white latex paint on a black, obsidian-like background. The choice of material references the sap from the rubber (also “Caoutchouc” in French) tree, hence the titles Sap Sonic and Sap Script. The typeface of Sap Script echoes the slender and linear structure of rubber trees, distorted to resemble the waveform of sound waves. Through the intangible, unseen nature of sound, Sap Sonic probes the aspects of the visual world agitated by the listening sense, hence expanding the agentive possibilities of the uncounted and the underheard.
Priyageetha Dia (b. 1992, Singapore) works with time-based media and installation. Her practice is braided between plantation ecologies, post-colonial memory(ies), migration politics, and the production of labour and data economics. Structured through fieldwork and archival research, she engages in nonlinear and speculative processes as a practice of refusal against dominant narratives. Her recent exhibitions include Frieze Seoul (2023); Singapore Art Museum (2023); Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kerala (2022–23); La Trobe Art Institute, Australia (2022); National Gallery Singapore (2020); and Art Science Museum, Singapore (2019). She was an artist-in-residence at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore in 2022. She was also the recipient of the IMPART award by Art Outreach in 2019.