If Forests Talk
12–30.01.2022
Information
Curator's Note
Artworks
If Forests Talk




Information

The second edition of If Forests Talk (IFT22) homes in on the tropical rainforests of Singapore, placing its focus upon the early histories of the disciplines of botany and natural history. The early methodologies of these disciplines were often practiced by the West remotely from their subjects, relying upon the study of specimens and literature instead of field work. With the continued disruption to global travel, IFT22 explores the parallels between the current modes of grounded/remote artmaking and these past disciplinary practices.

Exploring how new modes of research and presentation might allow for the bridging of distances and the intimating of proximities. And perhaps more importantly, how existentially a place such as Singapore – birthed for the facilitation of globalisation – might continue to be seen and imagined from both within and out in this continued moment of rootedness.

Works are online from 12 January until 30 January 2022.

IFT22 is part of Singapore Art Week 2022 and is supported by the National Arts Council, Singapore.

CURATOR
Kent Chan

ARTISTS
ila, Weixin Quek Chong, Marjet Zwaans, Jonathan Castro Alejos

EVENT
Online artist talk: 24.01.2022, 8pm (GMT+8)

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Curator's Note
Kent Chan
Curator's Note
There’d always be a risk curatorially, in any attempts to productively conflate modes of colonially-derived knowledge from the past with our fraught contemporary moment. Yet, refusals to see the parallels comes with its own pitfalls. The word “contemporary” is itself contentious. Depending on where one is from one may be privileged for it to simply mean now. However, if one is to be from a formerly colonised space it could come to connote a complex overlapping of the past for which the context of the present is derived.

As the saying goes, context is everything.

The latter definition of the contemporary is where I would like to begin, which necessitates occupying two (or more) moments at the same time. In the recent past, the ease of travel meant that my presence could straddle multiple spaces. Now no longer the case, it has only intensified a need to engage with different places synchronically. As if drawing time zones together meant the shortening of physical distances.

In the past, the disciplines of botany and natural history were oftentimes practiced remotely via samples that were shipped from the colonies in the tropics to the various Western metropoles for study. It meant that many scholarly works were authored by people that had (and would) never experienced the environment and cornucopia that are the tropical rainforests.

It bears reminding that long after the “discovery” of the Americas, the Aristotelian belief that the tropics (or the torrid zone as it was known for millennia) was a place of scorching heat and thus rendered life impossible was only belated discarded in scholarly circles. Unbeknownst to Aristotle and lot, the tropics and its rainforests had been around for what would seem to them like an eternity.

The artists of this edition of If Forests Talk (IFT22) were asked from varying distances to look at the tropical rainforests in Singapore as a starting point for each of their works. To which each interpreted the subject matter in varying degrees and approaches. It would appear that I’ve recast them all as botanists and naturalists of yesteryear in a piece of curatorial theatre. The question would of course be, why?

Firstly, the parallels are stark whether by design or not. Secondly, the fact that research and projects across geopolitical regions by an art industry notoriously obsessed with internationalism will likely remain remote and/or tenuous for most in the short term. More pertinently, Singapore as an island requires perspectives from within and out. In its case, it is fair to say that for the city-state navel-gazing is a very real existential threat.

What’s different from the practices from the (colonial) past is the directionality from which the intentions to look at Singapore derive from. Despite my absence from the city-state for over two years, I’d argue that the interests in Singapore and it’s tropical rainforests stems from within. As opposed to the detached foreign gaze from years past.

To that effect, each of the artists of IFT22 possess an affinities to Singapore and/or the tropical rainforests that are the focus of this project. The first of two Amsterdam-based artists, Marjet Zwaans has produced the work, Correspondence for Choir [2.12] that examines ecological economics from deep within the tropical rainforests of Suriname, which she has been increasingly and physically drawn to in recent years. Jonathan Castro Alejo’s video and sonic essay that likens the tropical rainforests as a form of acoustic barrier amidst the encroachment of industrial soundscapes. Based in Madrid, Weixin Quek Chong’s series of videos and texts hinges upon a sense of disembodiment that while looking at the history of early practices of botany and natural history, seems to at once dissolves it. At the scene of the crime is ila’s video in four chapters that looks at the history of the garden in Singapore. A concept that at its heart encompass colonial plantations, urban greening and the most recent trend of biophilic design whose offence is in confusing people of the distinctions that lie between nature and nurture.

Before I wrap this up, I’m going to throw in another reason behind the premise of this edition of IFT. In the West’s pursuit of colonial knowledge, it seemed the more that was learnt of the tropical rainforest the more the West’s relationship with it was perverted. It’s a relationship that has hardly abated and in many ways has been adopted and exacerbated. So while the tropical rainforests does seem to have been around forever, maybe it’s worth asking whether that will remain the case.

To which the answer in our seemingly-eschatological time might just amount to a firm maybe.
Artists
ila
taman hutan - Chapter One: The Birth of the Garden

For the best experience of the work, please use headphones.

taman hutan by ila is a film that traces the history of the colonial garden in Singapore through four chapters and looks at how the presence of the garden have shaped human relationships with nature. Addressing capital, exploitation and control, taman hutan is a provocation to reconsider these relationships and histories in the midst of environmental and climate crises.

Chapter One: The Birth of the Garden begins with media headlines that charts Singapore’s move into a biophilic city in nature in the last two years since the pandemic. From the planting of 1 million trees to the increase in otter attacks, these strangely contradicting and humorous encounters juxtapose the origins of the colonial garden and it’s evolution over the years.

ila is a visual and performance artist whose intimate works incorporate objects, moving images and live performance. Through weaving imagined narratives into existing realities, she seeks to create alternative nodes of experience and entry points into the peripheries of the unspoken, the tacit and the silenced. Using her body as a space of tension, negotiation and confrontation, her works generate discussion about gender, history and identity in relation to pressing contemporary issues. She has shown at DECK (2021), National Gallery Singapore (2020), The Substation, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art among others.
Weixin Chong
humic moods

For the best experience of the work, please use headphones.

Looking at distance/ detachment and its’ relationship to forming & defining identities of Self and Other, humic moods delves into the idea of points of view of detachment and ideological disembodiment in relation to the early foundations of botany and natural history, which often relied on accounts and descriptions many times removed from empirical experience. The discarded data of the sensory and the subjective composts like detritus on the forest floor. This composted, rotting and fertile humus is the starting point for the series of three videos with accompanying text.

Drawing on detachment as a vehicle of dissociation and disembodiment, the video works layer a variety of references both sonically and visually, looking at imaginations and observations as well as alluding to the constant alteration and reconstruction of memory as it is written and overwritten. As in lucid dreaming, they are punctuated/ counterpointed/ disturbed with textural infiltrations- literary quotes and poetic texts - interspersing the narrative with sensory impressions.

The text that appears, cross-laced with the sonic narratives in the video, is taken from Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. These are the last utterances of Kurtz, its extractive and fanatical primary antagonist, in order of appearance:

“Of course you must take care of the motives- right motives- always.”
“Close the shutter.”
“I can’t bear to look at this.”
“Oh, but I will wring your heart yet!”
“Live rightly, die, die…for the furthering of my ideas. It’s a duty.”
“I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.”
“The horror! The horror!”

Weixin Quek Chong works with image, object, audiovisual and at times performative elements to play with perception and senses. She received her MA from the Royal College of Art (London) in 2014 and her BA(Hons) from LASALLE College of the Arts (Singapore), working between Madrid, Singapore and London. Weixin has presented projects in Singapore, London, Seoul, Santiago, Yogyakarta, Taipei and Brussels among other cities and is an alumni of artist residencies in the Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art (Korea), NTU-Center for Contemporary Art (Singapore) and Museo de Arte Contemporaneo-Molten Capital Foundation (Santiago, Chile).
ila
taman hutan – Chapter Two: Sumpah Tanah

For the best experience of the work, please use headphones.

Chapter Two: Sumpah Tanah looks at the consequences of the careless clearing of primary forests to make way for plantation cash crops of gambir and pepper. Sumpah tanah, which translates to the curse of the land, suggests the resistance and pushback of the land against the exploits of colonisation.
Marjet Zwaans
Correspondence for Choir [2.12]

For the best experience of the work, please use headphones.

Marjet Zwaans invited Singaporean composer and illustrator, Hee Suhui for a correspondence to experiment and create a set of instructions for choirs. Within online meetings, Marjet Zwaans introduces concepts and theoretical references from Ecological Economics, to depart from. Ecological economics views the economy as a subsystem of the environment and argues that many environmental problems are caused by the scale of economic activity exceeding ecosystem limits. Secondly, the project builds on the notion of lichen, a multitude of species of algae and fungus that strengthen and protect each other mutually. The response by the composer does not have to be a musical score with music stave. The set of instructions can take a form where the composer feels comfortable with or wants to experiment with as musical notation.



The resultant set of instructions for choirs stems from lichen’s multiple manners of sexual and non-sexual reproduction. The three sequencing acts relate to expansion, fragmentation and diaspora. The different reproduction strategies depend on the healthiness of the surrounding environment. The intention is for the choir to move and walk from the urban environment of Singapore towards the 0.28% of primary forest that is left in Singapore.

How can we create a collective consciousness wherein the value of the natural capital of the tropical rainforest is prioritized over the potential financial capital value? As in Ecological Economics, strong sustainability argues that different types of capital are not substitutable for one another, but instead complementary.

Artist Marjet Zwaans studies and plays with elements from the Rethinking Economics movement for pluralism in economic education. Zwaans translates abstract concepts and models into spatial installations, workshops, and performances. Her recent works originate from Ecological Economics, a transdisciplinary field of study, focusing on the economy as a subsystem of a larger local and global ecosystem. It sets limits to the physical growth of the economy. Can we tune into collectives to produce less, consume less, repair more and take care of more? Interdependence is reflected in all her works, which often spring from infectious enthusiasm in divergent collaborations. Zwaans received her Ba. Fine Arts from Minerva Academy in Groningen and Bsc. and Msc. Economics from the University of Groningen and Erasmus University Rotterdam. In 2019/2020, she was a resident at the Jan van Eyck Academy Maastricht.
Weixin Chong
humic moods_grub dreams

For the best experience of the work, please use headphones.

A grub overturns and sifts through the layers, burrowing and nesting in the rich rot. The larval state is one of rebirth and possible re-generation; evolution and shapeshifting. Sounds of larvae feeding are meshed with the sounds of them being fed on, these fluid-rich textures accumulating and punctuated with percussive bursts. Life-forces wax and wane, ebb and swell and are stolen; the decline of one organism is the birth of another; insect, incest, incessant damage deconstructs each quickly-ripening new skin.

ila
taman hutan – Chapter Three: The Blight of the Nutmeg

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Chapter Three: The Blight of the Nutmeg retraces the origin of the colonial plantation empire to the Banda island massacre and the violence that has manifested in the present degradation of the land and its resources.

Jonathan Castro Alejos
I am getting flashbacks that actually don't exist in my mind

For the best experience of the work, please use headphones.

The audiovisual work by Jonathan Castro Alejos is a speculative fictional video journal on isolation, the sonic in the Anthropocene, and the affects and effects of sound after the normalization of the increasing impact of human activity on the environment. By using “visual assemblages” the video attempts to explore in poetic manners the relationship between sound, environment, and perception.

Jonathan Castro Alejos' practice oscillates between the units of the real and the fictitious, deterritorializing images and found unpolished objects, as raw materials embedded with different identities, into surfaces and languages through re-assemblage and a non-linear mix of techniques to redefine and question their value, aura, and fundamental state.
Weixin Chong
humic moods_royal jelly formicarium

For the best experience of the work, please use headphones.

Notes on humic moods vid 3\3, [ royal jelly formicarium ] :
  • "Social insects build some of the most complex nests found in the animal kingdom. …The nests of social insects are not only impressive because of their sheer complexity but also because they are built from individuals whose work is not centrally coordinated."
From [ Stigmergic construction and topochemical information shape ant nest architecture ] by Anaïs Khuong, Jacques Gautrais, Andrea Perna, Chaker Sbaï, Maud Combe, Pascale Kuntz, Christian Jost, and Guy Theraulaz.
  • "Dominance interaction such as aggressive physical interaction and ritualised displays between dominant (i.e. high-ranked in the hierarchy) and subordinate (i.e. low-ranked) individuals is widespread in animals. Dominance hierarchies are a regulatory mechanism of the social system and observed in a wide range of taxa from vertebrates to invertebrates. Dominant individuals would have a high chance to access resources and can enhance their fitness, whereas subordinates have a small chance of resource acquisition and as a result in some taxa undertake a role of helper that does not reproduce.”
From [ Global network structure of dominance hierarchy of ant workers]
by Hiroyuki Shimoji, Masato S. Abe, Kazuki Tsuji, and Naoki Masuda
  • Play 'Empires of the Undergrowth’, the ant colony management game, 'in a fast-paced real-time strategy style. The player excavates their nest underground, constructing tunnels and chambers to store food and raise brood. On the surface, the ants claim territory, gather resources, overwhelm fearsome arachnids and clash with other colonies.’
On the Monomorium destructor (Singapore ant):
  • "Monomorium destructor (the Singapore ant) is described as a tramp ant as it is renowned for transporting itself around the world via human commerce and trade. Monomorium destructor is known to cause extensive economic damage in urban environments by gnawing holes in fabric and rubber goods, removing rubber insulation from electric and phone lines and damaging polyethylene cable. “
ila
taman hutan - Chapter Four: Wound Response

For the best experience of the work, please use headphones.

Chapter Four: Wound Response begins with archival documentation of wages, looks at the exploitation of knowledge and labour, and the imbalance of power between master and slave, nature and man. Focusing on the rubber craze of the 20th century, Henry Nicholas Ridley (English botanist, geologist and naturalist )and his unnamed assistant, the chapter ends with echoes of these untold narratives in the ghosts of those who had been removed.



12–30.01.2022


The second edition of If Forests Talk (IFT22) homes in on the tropical rainforests of Singapore, placing its focus upon the early histories of the disciplines of botany and natural history. These disciplines were often practiced by the West remotely from their subjects, relying upon the study of specimens and literature instead of field work.

Exploring how new modes of research and presentation might allow for the bridging of distances and the intimating of proximities. And perhaps more importantly, how existentially a place such as Singapore – birthed for the facilitation of globalisation – might continue to be seen and imagined from both within and out in this continued moment of rootedness.

IFT22 is part of Singapore Art Week 2022 and is supported by the National Arts Council, Singapore.

CURATOR
Kent Chan

ARTISTS
ila, Weixin Quek Chong, Marjet Zwaans, Jonathan Castro Alejos

EVENT
Online artist talk: 24.01.2022, 8pm (GMT+8)

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