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Sowing Stories from The Edges of Singapore On National Gallery Singapore’s Rooftop

April 24, 2019 Destination ASEAN No Comments Email Email


Singapore has grown substantially over the years, not only in terms of population and urban development, but also physically through land reclamation. As a contribution to conversations on this intrinsic aspect of the country’s development, National Gallery Singapore has commissioned critically acclaimed artist Charles Lim Yi Yong to transform its Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden into a social space that facilitates deeper understanding of the complexity and intricacies of the reclamation landscape. Titled SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden, it is the Gallery’s first Roof Garden Commission by a Singapore artist, and also Lim’s first extensive foray into re-designing a physical space for his work.

From now until 27 October 2019, visitors will encounter over 30 lesser-known plant species that thrive in reclaimed areas around Singapore, including Changi, Tuas and the Southern Islands. The title of this living art installation references the act of proclamation made by the Presidents of Singapore over the past five decades, in which reclaimed sites are officially declared as state lands. For Lim, 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.

Dr Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore, said, “SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden reflects our commitment to broaden perspectives and provoke new ways of thinking through art. This artistic intervention of an existing physical space offers an accessible way to inform our visitors on the intricacies of the reclamation landscape prior to urbanisation – a complex yet important concept to help us better understand the environment around us.”

Working with the Gallery’s Senior Curator Dr Adele Tan, and esteemed local botanical consultant Mr Veera Sekaran, founder of the urban greening company Greenology, Lim has assembled an eclectic collection of plants that brings 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.

Beyond encountering species expected to be found in coastal and mangrove areas near reclamation sites, visitors may further expand their botanical vocabulary with unusual plant varieties — the prickly Sandbur (Cenchrus Echinatus), the parasitic Seashore Dodder (Cassytha Filiformis) that survives by taking over a host tree, and even a Date Palm (Phoenix Dactylifera) that is thought to have propagated in the sand from a date seed that was discarded after consumption.

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.

Charles Lim said, “The dynamics between the land and sea continue to inform my work on the SEA STATE series. This latest installation further challenges me to share my inquiry into the multi-layered reclamation history in unconventional ways, where the plants’ transplantation and adaptation to thrive in the roof garden reflect Singapore’s urban and coastal development. I hope that they will spark renewed interest in the environment around us, and enable visitors to gather fresh insights.”

In addition to allowing visitors access to unique and uncommon plant species, SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden also serves as a public platform that facilitates a dialogue on the larger issues brought up by the installation. Therefore, to complement the visitor experience, Lim has conceived a 30-minute podcast and visual essay. 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.

The Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Commission series invites one leading international artist each year to present a site-specific work that reflects upon Southeast Asia’s rich cultural heritage and complex histories from a contemporary perspective. Previous artists commissioned for the series include Danh Vo and Rirkrit Tiravanija. The Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery Commission is made possible through a gift by Far East Organization.



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