Finding the Art in our Heartlands: Nature Sites

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Nature Places To Visit In Singapore

In the past few months that we’ve collectively stayed at home, what are some places in Singapore that we have missed? In this series, we invite Singapore visual artists to respond to beloved places that have patiently awaited the day that we can visit them once more, as well as some of the essential services that have kept us going during this pandemic.

This week, artists Nandita Mukand, Yen Phang, Marvin Tang and Danielle Tay respond to nature spaces that have provided a breath of fresh air during our work-from-home lives. Slide over the photos to reveal the artists’ works.

Fort Canning Hill | Yen Phang, For Enn and Fay (In Your Own Time){Painting While It’s Raining} //— During the Time of a Pandemic), 2020

For all its natural beauty, Fort Canning Hill drips with a weight that few other places in Singapore carry. Believed to have been a burial spot for ancient kings, it has been named Bukit Larangan or ‘Forbidden Hill’ by the Malay community. In more recent times, most would recall our Social Studies lessons of the Hill’s pivotal function as a defensive fort during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore – and all the gory scenes of war which those memories evoke.

Even in adulthood, visits here feel tinged with an air of dangerous foolhardiness. Who can truly deny, during each valiant visit to Laneway, the Green, and Fabulous Baker Boy (RIP), that a tiny whisper of “Careful, hantu catch you!” still lingers at the backs of our minds?

Staring at Yen Phang’s For Enn and Fay (In Your Own Time){Painting While It’s Raining} //—During the Time of a Pandemic) may just be the therapy that we all need. Here, Fort Canning is transformed into an ethereal, shimmering palace. In his signature style and a candied pastel palette, Phang has painstakingly applied over ten layers of translucent glazes to create an expansive scene where “imaginary nature performs an ongoing pas de deux with the fixity of the man-made,” as he describes it.

In our complex socio-political and natural environment, Phang questions how we may embrace our own agency in deciding what to conserve. He shares that he painted this for his nieces – after whom the work was named – in invitation for them to discover their own narratives and shared experiences as they grow up.

And perhaps, we too may learn to see Fort Canning in its own natural, beautiful light.

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Artwork information: Yen Phang, For Enn and Fay (In Your Own Time){Painting While It’s Raining} //— During the Time of a Pandemic, 2020, oil on canvas, 76cm x 102cm. This work is part of the series “A Balcony.” For enquiries, please contact Ray Vees Goh (ray [at] artprojectsasia.com), or Anng Tan (anng [at] artprojectsasia.com) at Art Projects Gallery.)

 

MacRitchie Reservoir | Danielle Tay, An Evergreen. 2020

Brimming with wildlife and absolutely essential to our water supply, MacRitchie Reservoir strikes the perfect balance of beauty and functionality that every urban planner can only aspire towards.

In her painting An Evergreen, Danielle Tay sought to capture the Reservoir’s enduring quality as “a site that has stayed constant throughout the passing of time”. Its iconic pavilion stands resolute against a vibrant backdrop of vegetation and water – a scene seemingly immutable even amidst the transient wildlife that it plays host to.

A family of otters swims nonchalantly by, gawking at visitors, and a bold monkey (that never fails to recognise the brimming potential of an exposed plastic bag) stares straight out of the frame at the viewer. An Evergreen celebrates this iconic spot of nature within a city and all the surprises that it brings.

The reservoir offers an oasis of respite to urbanites burdened by the overwhelming dominance of technology and fast paced city life. Here, man meets nature in a happy compromise of wildlife and walkways, of idyllic lake and feat of engineering.

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Artwork information: Danielle Tay, An Evergreen, 2020, gouache on watercolour paper, 30cm x 20cm. This original work is for sale at the price of S$640. Please email hello [at] danielletay.com to enquire further.

 

East Coast Park | Nandita Mukand, ECP Horizons, 2020

One cannot help but reminisce when East Coast Park comes to mind – of childhood days spent frolicking in the sand, of family barbecues and volleyball games, and of pre-COVID times where one could walk buoyantly on its paths without worrying about the onslaught of maskless joggers panting over one’s shoulder.

Nandita Mukand returns focus to the tranquil beauty of the park in her work ECP Horizons, painting a coastal scene devoid of crowds – one that she has come to be familiar with in her many hours spent in this park which is close to her home and heart.

In a sort of tangible homage to the place, she has mixed sand and dried vegetation into her paint. The impasto poses a striking contrast with the delicate loose weave cloth which forms the ‘canvas’ for this work, as do the towering cumulonimbi juxtaposed against coastal lands.

The representational depiction may be a departure from her usual abstract style, but Mukand contemplates the interconnectedness of our globalised world through the materiality of the cloth, a material she frequently works with. She shares, “pulling one thread in this interwoven fabric reveals the vulnerability of these webs” – something that this pandemic has brought starkly to our awareness.

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Artwork information: Nandita Mukand, ECP Horizons, 2020, mixed media including cloth, wool, plaster, resin, acrylics, dried plants and sand, 66cm x 85 cm. The work is for sale at the price of S$1,800. Interested buyers may enquire further by telephone, at 91596501. 

 

Botanic Gardens | Marvin Tang, Botanic Garden (Symphony Lake – 12 Phases), 2020

Home to a Michelin-starred restaurant, the Botanic Gardens has been conferred with titles galore. It has been ranked as the top park in Asia in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Impeccably manicured with a colonially curated charm, the Botanic Gardens is universally adored by day-trip tourists, outdoorsy families and sun-loving expats alike. Yet, during the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker period, its lush lawn was closed, and for once, unvisited.

Marvin Tang’s Botanic Garden (Symphony Lake – 12 Phases) reimagines this empty scene where nature has reclaimed precedence. He has hand-tinted twelve postcards of the site, as would have been done by the postcard colourists of olden times, who often never visited the locations photographed, and relied instead on their own imaginations, thus producing works in varying colours.

This work follows in Tang’s long-standing interest in the postcard and colonial botanical institutes, both embodiments of the exoticised and commodifying gaze. Here however, he turns the lens inwards to “examine our urge to fictionalise and create an alternate reality” during pandemic-driven times of social distancing.

The result is a juxtaposition of subtly-hued images, varying in their evocation of different moods and emotions, yet each seemingly just as plausible a scene as the next. One might rightly wonder which, or whose, version is privileged to be taken as the correct version of reality.

If anything, perhaps these are opportune times for re-imagination of “reality” – particularly, of our relationship with nature, and the ways in which we support or exploit it.

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Artwork Information: Marvin Tang, Botanic Garden (Symphony Lake – 12 Phases), 2020, archival inkjet print on matte paper and watercolour, 82cm by 48cm (full series). This work is not for sale.

 

Keep your eyes peeled for more artists’ creative responses to the places that they’ve missed in other articles in this series, as well as our upcoming microsite in August!

All photos in this article were shot by Jeremy Goh of Trippin’ Creatives.

 All works produced are original and were specially commissioned for this project. If works are sold, Plural Art Mag will take no commissions in respect of such sales. If you are able to, we urge you to consider acquiring a work as this will go towards sustaining our vibrant community of local creatives, as well as the wider ecosystem that supports them.

This project is produced by Plural Art Mag as part of the #SGCultureAnywhere campaign.



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Tamaryn

Tamaryn

When Tamaryn is not making art or writing, you can find her prophesying in astrological tongue to her colleagues in the dingy pantry of her full-time job. She loves herbs and fermentation, but is unfortunately also a proficient murderer of every houseplant she's ever owned.

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