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 was among Europe’s most respected yet under-acknowledged artists. Producing artwork since the 1950s, Geys’ practice probes the construction of social and political engagement, and his work radically embraces art as being intertwined with everyday life. Geys graduated from the Antwerp Arts Academy before settling in Balen in the Kempen region of Belgium, where from 1960 to 1989, he taught art at a state school, focusing on educational experimentation in the arts. Since the late 1960s, Geys has been the editor and publisher of his local newspaper, the Kempens Informatieblad, and subsequently produced them in line with his exhibitions. He is known for his meticulous archive of his work, which in turn becomes generative of other works.
Louise Neo is a botanical researcher and the co-author of Wayside Flowers of Singapore, a full-colour guidebook that showcases the diversity of wildflowers in Singapore and interesting facts about each species. Neo is a contributor to Urban Forest (uforest.org), a non-profit online platform that aims to provide an accessible and convenient identification guide to the diversity of plants in Singapore and the region.
Teo Siyang is a full-time data analyst with a biology degree and the founder of Urban Forest (uforest.org), which aims to provide information about the diversity of plants in Singapore. The platform was built on the belief that the first step in conservation is enabling people to identify the nature around them so they can foster a deeper connection with it.