Furthering her long-term research on bioacoustics, botanical histories, and interspecies communication, Tini Aliman intends to approach tree stumps as a sonic archive of the environment and engage them with various sensorial modalities. Within the framework of this project, tree stumps are regarded as witnesses to the ecological and anthropogenic changes resulting from land development, extractive capitalism, and climate change. Despite being seemingly devoid of life, felled trees and their stumps are in fact connected to underground forest ecologies and are part of sprawling fungal and bacterial networks through which plants communicate and send out signals that are not immediately graspable by the human ear. Shifting the acoustic experience of listening to one that is attuned to the sonic manifestation of non-human organisms, the artist will attempt to translate these signals into audible frequencies that merge deep listening and site-specificity.  Furthermore, drawing parallels between the organic plant networks and the structure of printed circuit board (PCB), she will also map various sonic and spatial trajectories of plant sensing, survival, and communication. 

Dirk Snauwaert is Artist Director of WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, and was involved in its creation since July 2004. At WIELS, Snauwaert has curated exhibitions of Tauba Auerbach (2013) and Mike Kelley (2008). Prior, Snauwaert was Co-Director of the Institut d’art contemporain Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alps where he was in charge of the exhibition programme and the development of the FRAC Rhône-Alpes collection. He was Director of the Kunstverein Munich from 1996 to 2001, where he curated solo shows by Rita McBride (1999), William Kentridge (1998), David Lamelas (1997), and Fareed Armaly (1997). He was also the curator of Jef Geys at the Pavilion of Belgium, 53rd Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition. Snauwaert was an NTU CCA Singapore Curator-in-Residence in 2015.

Research interests:

– Botanical studies and urban planning
– Regional folklore, ghost myths, animistic practices
– Alternative historiographies

Inspired by the recent felling of Khaya senegalensis (a tree species native to West Africa) in one of Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest streets for urban development purposes, Lêna Bùi’s project revolves around widespread regional beliefs about hungry and unresolved spirits residing in trees. The artist plans to delve deeper into the intersections between botanical studies, colonial histories, and urban planning in Indochina, framing them against the backdrop of ancestral wisdom and haunting presences. The research will eventually lead to an articulation of unspoken stories from times gone by.

The residency of Lêna Bùi was scheduled for April – June 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak rendered international travel impossible. In order to continue to support artistic research and foster collaborations beyond borders, the NTU CCA Residencies Programme initiated Residencies Rewired, a project that trailblazes new pathways to collaboration.

Research Liaison: Elizabeth Ang

Elizabeth Ang is a freelance creative and writer who holds a BA in International History from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research interests include Cold War historiography as well as social, cultural, and religious histories of Southeast Asia.

Sourcing oral histories and female accounts, delving into archives, and mapping sites associated with different forms of mining, exploitation, and confinement, Rossella Biscotti will deepen her research interest into colonial structures of power and management at the turn of the 20th century and the way in which these structures are interwoven with contemporary practices of production and distribution. Expanding on a recently produced body of works that explore the physical and aesthetic properties of rubber—notably its resistance and its resemblance to human skin—the artist aims to research its production process on site. She will conduct archival research on colonial trade, botanical imports, and intensive cultivations in preparation for her field trips to rubber and oil palm plantations in the region.

Premised upon the methodologies of ethnographic fieldwork, Matthias Sohr’s (b. 1980, Germany) artistic practice results in sculptures and installations that draw from technology and social sciences to reflect a wide range of research interests, from medical anthropology to “Bureaucracy Studies”. He is currently pursuing a PhD in the History of Medicine, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Matthias Sohr obtained a Master of Visual Arts from the University of Art and Design Lausanne, Switzerland in 2013. He has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Arts and Industrial Design Linz, Austria (2011-2012); Berlin University of the Arts, Institute of Spatial Experiments, Germany (2010). His work has been exhibited at Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), Japan (2011) and Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany (2014), among others.

The Colony (2017 – ongoing) is the title of Marvin Tang’s long-term research project which examines the impact of botanical institutions on the movement of seeds, plants, and people in the colonial era. For the next iteration of the project, the artist intends to focus on the history and evolution of the Wardian case, a glass container for growing and transporting flora devised by British physician Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1833. The direct precursor of the modern terrarium, this transportable receptacle proved instrumental in allowing the circulation of plants across the globe in the 19th century. Here, it is framed as a point of departure to excavate the social, economic, and environmental implications of planetary plant movements and the displacement of labour forces required to sustain booming plantation economies. During the residency, the studio will be used to conduct durational experiments with natural substances and photographic materials and try out different modes of display.

Working at the intersection of film, sound, theatre, and installation and often through collaborative projects, the sonic and spatial experiments of Tini Aliman (b. 1980, Singapore) focus on forest networks, plant consciousness, bioacoustics, and data translations via biodata sonification. Her recent projects and collaborations have been presented at Free Jazz III: Sound. Walks. NTU CCA Singapore (2021); An Exercise of Meaning in a Glitch Season, National Gallery Singapore (2020); Sound Kite Orchestra, Biennale Urbana, Venice, Italy and Stories We Tell to Scare Ourselves With, Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, Taiwan (both 2019). 

Interested in the contiguities and frictions between the natural and urban environment, Izat Arif has conducted experiential and erratic fieldwork in various landscapes in Singapore observing plants, soil, insects, and traces of human presence. This investigation is presented in The Vitrine as a form of a provisional “cabinet of essential items,” which contains a selection of the artist’s notes and drawings, research tools, and findings.

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-term research cluster Climates.Habitats.Environments.

This exhibition focuses on materials from four plants deeply rooted in Asia: indigo (Indigofera tinctoria), lacquer (Rhus succedanea and Melanorrhoea usitata), rattan (Calamoideae), and mulberry (Morus). The works trace the ongoing involvement with these plants in the artistic practices of Manish Nai (India) with indigo, Phi Phi Oanh (United States/Vietnam) with lacquer, Sopheap Pich (Cambodia) with rattan, and Liang Shaoji (China) and Vivian Xu (China) 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.

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 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 feature the participating artists, as well as craftsmen, scientists, ethnobotanists, anthropologists, scholars, and designers who are working with these materials and researching innovative applications. From the diverse perspectives offered by the contributors, the public programme excavates layers of meanings and reiterates the deeper role art and craft traditions have in supporting local communities and their ecosystems.

Topical seminars take place between 21 July and 8 September 2018.

On Lacquer: 21, 22 July

On Rattan: 25, 26 August

On Indigo: 4, 19 August, and 1 September

On Mulberry: 8 September

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 and Co-director, MA Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices, NTU ADM; and Khim Ong, Deputy Director, Curatorial Programmes, NTU CCA Singapore.

Trees of Life – Knowledge in Material public programmes

NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore presents Quadra Medicinale Singapore, the late Belgian artist Jef Geys’s first institutional exhibition in Asia. Geys’s conceptual practice adopted an interdisciplinary and collaborative process of research and knowledge-formation, and was driven by his belief that art should be intertwined with the everyday.

For Quadra Medicinale (2009), Geys invited residents of Villeurbanne, New York, Moscow, and Brussels to demarcate a geometrical quadrant, with their home or workplace at the centre, and document 12 unassuming street plants, or “weeds.” From this collection, the collaborators uncovered the productive, and often times medicinal, properties of these plants.

Quadra Medicinale is structured as a universal manual capable of being replicated anywhere and has, since its first presentation at the Pavilion of Belgium during the 53rd Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition in 2009, been realised and shown in various cities including at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2010). The exhibition was followed by similar methods of botanical and medicinal plant studies as documented in the accompanying publication Kempens Informatieblad. This alternative model set up by Geys for collective knowledge production, sharing, and documentation has, underlying its process, a socially-active role: Geys asked questions such as, “What can a homeless person who has a toothache, for example, chew-on to ease the pain, and to eventually cure the problem?”

On view will be four chapters of the project, including a newly-created Singapore chapter following Geys’s instructions with contributions by local collaborators, Louise Neo and Teo Siyang. Each chapter includes framed plant specimens with their characteristics labelled, photographs of the site where the plants were originally found, as well as maps of the geographical quadrant explored. Through inciting a collaborative process, Geys created a unique model for knowledge production and sharing.

Questioning mainstream and organised systems of urban planning and information dissemination, Geys casted doubt on the fundaments of language and visual representation, interrogating art’s relation to meaning-making. He produced a text explaining the Quadra Medicinale project that has been translated into 10 languages, with annotations by the artist himself on the translations. Their display as large-format scrolls, further probes systems of interpretation, communication, and accessibility. A selection of these text scrolls and a Malay translation, produced for this exhibition, will be shown.

Quadra Medicinale Singapore introduces an artistic practice that questions the hierarchies and adaptability of nature and society, provoking reflections on both their communicable and imperceptible structures. It also poses the question of whether conceptual artworks can be continued after an artist’s passing.

In addition to the elements from Quadra Medicinale, the exhibition includes two paintings from Geys’s Seed-bags series (1963–2018), a long-term project the artist started when, during his own gardening process, he discovered that the image of the vegetables or flowers pictured on the bag did not match the actual plant. With these paintings, which Geys would create every year, he challenged the accuracy and truth of commercial photography. The medium, however, played a significant role in the artist’s practice enabling him to accumulate an extensive archive of his own projects and interests.

In The Single Screen, Day and Night and Day… (2002), his 36-hour-long film produced for Documenta 11 (Kassel, Germany), will be screened in parallel to the exhibition. This film is a mesmeric sequence composed of thousands of black-and-white photographs Geys took from the mid-1950s to 1998.

The exhibition is made possible by generous loans from the Jef Geys Estate and Air de Paris.

Quadra Medicinale Singapore is curated by Dirk Snauwaert, Artistic Director at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, in collaboration with Ute Meta Bauer and Khim Ong, NTU CCA Singapore. Snauwaert was the Curator of Jef Geys: Quadra Medicinale in Venice 2009, commissioned for the National Pavilion of Belgiumby the Flemish Community. Snauwaert was an NTU CCA Singapore Curator-in-Residence in 2015.

The Singapore Chapter, Quadra Medicinale Singapore (2018), is now permanently installed at NTU, Earth Observatory of Singapore, as a gift of Jef Geys Estate. Please click here for the English translation of the Malay scroll on view. 

Jef Geys Quadra Medicinale Singapore public programmes