Whispering Secrets Into Trees
by Zarina Muhammad
A ‘spirit house’ assemblage composed of repurposed birdcages, soil, salvaged organic materials and plant parts, incense, benzoin resin, snakeskin, clay, yarn, coins alongside 56 ‘memory fragments’ printed on postcards.
“Singapore has undergone rapid deforestation since 1819. Secondary vegetation has regrown on these previously disturbed lands. Did you have a favourite tree, plant, flower or weed growing near your home that you looked forward to meeting when you could? Did you have non-human companions growing up?
Where was the first forest where you met your first migratory birds, eagles, tree snakes, reticulated pythons, whip snakes, black spitting cobras, iguanas, fire ants, millipedes, centipedes, phasmids, arachnids and ground beetles? When was your first memory of crossing human-created thresholds? Where might you have met other residents, other keepers of the forest – the ones who perch on trees or sit on park benches, and disappear when you blink. What is your first memory of a forest, a tree, soil, earth, dirt, places where people refuse to step on because there’s no concrete? Can you say the names, see, hear, smell, sense all the bodies and beings who have resided, occupied, moved through, been displaced, rehomed, rerouted, uprooted in this exact spot where you stand?”
Whispering Secrets into Trees is part assemblage, part letter addressed to the trees older than the buildings in our neighbourhoods, part exquisite corpse to be activated and extended with each additional reader, part performative object for anyone to play ventriloquist or medium with, part correspondence with an imagined stranger in these strange new times where we are isolated from one another. The work draws from environmental and land histories, biographical memory fragments, the names we give our favourite trees, places of childhood and the stories of non-human companions of that time whom we might have shared secrets with.
Artwork description: A ‘spirit house’ assemblage composed of repurposed birdcages, soil, salvaged organic materials and plant parts, incense, benzoin resin, snakeskin, clay, yarn, coins alongside 56 ‘memory fragments’ printed on postcards.