Visiting Trees of Life – Knowledge in Material

 Sopheap Pich's  Valley Drip (Maroon Top) , 2012. Made with bamboo, rattan, burlap, and beeswax with natural pigment. 

Sopheap Pich's Valley Drip (Maroon Top), 2012. Made with bamboo, rattan, burlap, and beeswax with natural pigment. 

An enjoyable way to spend time and expose oneself to the arts and the world is to visit art exhibitions. I did exactly so by heading to NTU Centre for Contemporary Art's exhibition, Trees of Life – Knowledge in Material located at Gillman Barracks. 

Stepping into the exhibition space, I was greeted by the sheer materiality of the four featured plants. With each work contrasted against the dark floor and walls, illuminated by soft white lighting, the physical characteristics of each material – the colours, textures and patterns – became even more obvious to the eye.

 Close-up of Liang Shaoji's  Lonely Cloud,  2016. Made with wood, silk, cocoons and steel pipes. 

Close-up of Liang Shaoji's Lonely Cloud, 2016. Made with wood, silk, cocoons and steel pipes. 

The artwork that was perhaps the most memorable to me was Liang Shaoji’s Lonely Cloud, 2016. Featuring wood, silk, cocoons and steel pipes, it was surprising to see how intricate the gleaming silk was in its interplay with the comparatively duller wood, and the presence of a few cocoons added to the naturalness of the work. Looking at the work further away, it was not difficult to see why Liang chose to name it this way; the gathering of the silk in this particular arrangement created a fluffy texture akin to clouds.

 Phi Phi Oanh's lacquer works. There are adjustable magnifying lenses to allow visitors to take a closer look at the intricate details of each piece.

Phi Phi Oanh's lacquer works. There are adjustable magnifying lenses to allow visitors to take a closer look at the intricate details of each piece.

The exhibition also does a good job with educating its visitors. Not only are the artworks and installations impressive in highlighting the materials’ characteristics, the accompanying description, text, and even research material, describe each material’s historical and cultural context in substantial detail. The effects of human interference on each material, such as medicinal and construction applications by local communities, are also laid out. As much as natural plants are being featured, the relationship humans have coerced them into is never left out of the picture.

Material, defined as the matter from which things are being made, is often perceived for its functional uses. This exhibition brings visitors face to face with the aesthetic nature of each material, a reminder that art and beauty are ubiquitous within our natural environment.
 

Trees of Life – Knowledge in Material is an ongoing exhibition by NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Held from now till 30 September 2018, you can visit the gallery located at Gillman Barracks in Singapore. 

 

Hui Lin Chen