What I don't know about trees and art
View of trees from our living room window. Image by J.
My choice of a de-stressing excursion this Saturday evening was to Kinokuniya's nature section (again!). More specifically, it was to three packed shelves of books about trees - most of them appropriately printed on FSC-certified paper. There were encyclopaedic books, collections of personal essays, excavations of histories, odes to trees, passionate arguments for saving them, scholarly research into their secret lives...
There's something about browsing books on a topic and by writers you know close to nothing about. Maybe it's the joy of discovery, the surprise, the wonder. Maybe there's a feeling of freedom in admitting ignorance - and with that, the permission to indulge your curiosity and imagination. (Of course, in a bookstore, there's the added lure of shopping...)
I think there's some similarity with the experience of visiting an art museum. And so J and I decided to continue our real and imaginative excursions into nature the next afternoon at the Singapore Art Museum's show "Unearthed" (curated by Tan Siuli).
The Bukit Brown Index by Post-Museum', image by J.
Because it is so easy to be didactic about man's relationship to nature, the works that seem to fall into this therefore seemed least interesting to me. But there are those that added to this a formal invention or exploration; works that questioned their own methods or admitted their own limits; or works that simply investigated, and investigated.
Senja Road, Ang Song Nian, image from www.singaporeartmuseum.sg
In this context, it was apt that the last room we saw on the top floor of 8QSAM showed the work of the Earth Observatory of Singapore at NTU (I didn't know such an institute existed on our island!). 8QSAM showcased the work of artists that the Earth Observatory had hosted for residencies.
We are fond of pitching the arts against science, and vice versa. On this island, at 14 you choose either "the science stream" or "the arts stream". One seeks answers. The other questions. One proceeds by rational observation. The other by conjecture and leaps of imagination. One asserts a singular identity and intellect. The other a collective accretion of knowledge through time, endlessly referencing. After a while, the one seem to be equally true of the other. At least curiosity and imagination must have informed them both.