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Trees of Life – Knowledge in Material
21 July - 30 September
NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore is embarking on an inquiry into natural materials, exploring the knowledge they embody as biological forms as well as within social, geopolitical, and historical contexts. Trees of Life – Knowledge in Material is part of the Centre’s long-term research cluster CLIMATES. HABITATS. ENVIRONMENTS.
This exhibition focuses on materials from four plants deeply rooted in Asia: indigo (Indigofera tinctoria), lacquer (Rhus succedanea and Melanorrhoea usitata), rattan (Calamoideae), and mulberry (Morus). The works trace the ongoing involvement with these plants in the artistic practices of Manish Nai (India) with indigo, Phi Phi Oanh (United States/Vietnam) with lacquer, Sopheap Pich (Cambodia) with rattan, and Liang Shaoji (China) and Vivian Xu (China) with mulberry silk. While the featured installations serve as a starting point to uncover the materiality of the chosen plants, the study of their natural and cultural DNA allows further exploration into their biological processes and diverse usages at their locale.
The artworks intertwine with selected research documents that address the complex histories and circulation, as well as the effects of human intervention on these natural resources. Starting from the properties and characteristics of the materials themselves, the project expands into their cultural representation and significance for communities and their crafts.
The longstanding social and cultural practices associated with indigo, lacquer, rattan, and mulberry silk have accumulated a vast repository of knowledge, whether formal or tacit. Beyond the format of the exhibition, topical seminars will be dedicated to each of the four materials, further investigating their social applications over centuries in terms of their materiality, cultural references, or expanded ecology, and as arising from technological advancements. The lectures, panels, talks, and workshops feature the participating artists, as well as craftsmen, scientists, ethnobotanists, anthropologists, scholars, and designers who are working with these materials and researching innovative applications. From the diverse perspectives offered by the contributors, the public programme excavates layers of meanings and reiterates the deeper role art and craft traditions have in supporting local communities and their ecosystems.