For the first time, the National Gallery Singapore has commissioned a local artist – Charles Lim Yi Yong – to transform its Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden into a social space that enables a deeper understanding of the intricacies of Singapore’s reclamation landscape – which has been pivotal in Singapore’s urban development plans.
This exhibition is titled SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden and it is also Charles’ first comprehensive foray into re-designing a physical space for his work.
Charles Lim studied Fine Art at London in Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design and graduated in 2001. His long-term SEA STATE project began in 2005; examining the political and biophysical contours of Singapore through the visible and invisible lenses of the sea. Charles’ work has been exhibited widely across Europe and the Asia-Pacific; his recent solo exhibitions have been held at the Johann Jacobs Museum in Zurich, and in 2015, he represented Singapore at the 56th Venice Biennale.
From now until 27 October 2019, visitors will encounter over 30 lesser-known plant species that thrive in coastal and mangrove areas around reclaimed areas in Singapore; including Changi, Tuas, and the Southern Islands. The title of this living art installation references the acts of proclamation made by the Presidents of Singapore over the past five decades; in which reclaimed sites are officially declared as state lands. For Charles, each proclamation sets in motion a chain of developmental changes that can quickly obscure other types of life, activities, knowledge, and histories forming at the margins of Singapore, which are indexed by the plants found there.
Working with the Gallery’s Senior Curator Dr. Adele Tan, and esteemed local botanical consultant Veera Sekaran, founder of the urban greening company Greenology, Charles has put together an assortment of plants that bring increased biodiversity to the landscaping of the Gallery’s roof garden. They are spread across the planter boxes around the rooftop and in a nursery at the heart of the garden that creates an open and welcoming environment for visitors to learn about these plants. The resulting work also serves as a microcosm of the thriving plant ecosystems found in newly reclaimed land areas, which are often perceived as barren.
The narratives generated by these plants express a metaphoric representation of Singapore’s journey as a City in a Garden, mirroring the country’s efforts to transform sea to land, and subsequently a city landscape through land reclamation.
The learning curve for this development was a steep one because “we are not plant people by nature.” Charles explained when quizzed on the challenges faced when taking on this ambitious project. Charles had to learn about the plants and also their characteristics to properly nurture them.
“It was also difficult to remove the plants from sandy areas!”
To complement the visitor experience, Charles Lim will produce a 30-minute podcast and visual essay by the end of June. These will feature insights and anecdotes from various specialists in botany, geography, constitutional and legal history, and land reclamation, helping visitors paint a more vivid picture of the process of land reclamation and transformation over the years. This podcast will be hosted on the Gallery’s website and the Gallery Explorer App. A richly illustrated catalogue featuring full-colour profile images taken by the artist of the new plants at the roof garden will also be published to accompany the Commission.
Look out for these 5 plants (out of 30) during your visit to the Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden:
Casuarina equisetifolia (CommonRhu)
In regions where the climate is dry and receives a little rainfall, the Casuarina is planted for land reclamation and as a source of fuelwood. Tanjong Rhu Road was named after the species as it was once lined with many of these impressive trees. Today, this plant can be found in reclaimed lands and even Cony island too.
Lantana Camara / Chicken Dung Flower
Introduced as an ornamental plant from tropical America, the Lantana has since become been seen a nuisance weed, as it is poisonous to cattle and has few insect enemies. However, the plant is still sometimes cultivated, and its fruit can be eaten by humans. The Lantana’s pounded leaves can also be used to treat wounds and ulcers.
Mimosa pigra (Giant Sensitive Tree)
Mimosa pigra was one of the plants Charles and team were not expecting or familiar with.
Compared to the smaller touch-me-nots that everyone is familiar with, Mimosa pigra is a stout, stiff, and prickly shrub. Its stems are densely grown; branching 1 to 6 metres long, and while it is usually erect, can also have a habit of creeping. The plant is gathered from the wild for local medicinal use, and has been cultivated to counter soil erosion and provide material for green manure as well
Coccoloba uvifera (Sea Grape)
The tree is recommended for buffer strips around parking lots, strip plantings in the highway, and even as a shade for residential streets. The tree can also be grown in the harshest of environments, such as urban areas where air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil and droughts are common. In addition, its grapes are often used to make a delicious jelly and are also popular with birds and squirrels.
The sea grapes however, are not edible for human consumption.
Cassytha Filiformis (Chemar Hantu, Seashore Dodder)
This parasitic herb steals water and nutrients by latching onto host plants. This alien-like plant proliferates very quickly and behaves like a leech to host plants. A team of scientists has also discovered that the plants can pass warnings amongst co-hosts to brace themselves in the event of insect attacks, thus helping to reduce their losses.
SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden
Date: Until 27 October
Time: 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Venue: Roof Garden National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew’s Rd, Singapore 178957
Entry to the exhibit is free. For more information, visit: https://www.nationalgallery.sg/
Photos by Soloman Soh of the DANAMIC Team.