art meets nature: an evocative exploration of Singapore’s forests at SAM.

nature art singapore the art biennale

Love art and nature? Robert Zhao’s exploration of Singapore’s secondary forests in ‘Seeing Forest’ might be just up your alley.

There’s something about accidentally stepping on a snail that saddens you – the guilt from taking away an innocent life so quickly, so suddenly, and so unintentionally. Yet most of us, once we’ve wiped the gunk off our soles, taken a breather from the mild sorrow, and perhaps pushed the carcass aside, move on with our lives. And perhaps only rightly so. There are more things to worry about than the life of a snail who in itself possibly could not have even fathomed the entirety of its existence and place in this world, at least to the capacity of human beings. 

But when you start to slowly consider the ramifications of our impact, do we realise there’s more to it then just one less snail. For instance, now one less bird gets a filling meal, or one less plot of land gets its nutrients.  

There’s no denying that it is within our very nature to have an influence on our natural environment. How aware, however, are we of the implications that result from our existence? According to Robert Zhao, it is only through patient observation that we are able to uncover these realisations. 

where art meets nature, and us. 

nature art singapore the art biennale 1

Together with The Singapore Art Museum (SAM), Singaporean artist Robert Zhao will be premiering his new exhibition titled ‘Seeing Forest’. This collection comes in collaboration with curator Haeju Kim, who will represent Singapore at the Biennale Arte 2024.

Zhao’s work, rooted in several years of accumulated observations from countless fieldtrips and through the windows of his own apartment, condenses and explores the multifaceted life of Singapore’s secondary forests. His pieces bring every viewer through a hidden world beyond our urban norm. 

nature art singapore seeing forest 2

Even in secondary forests, can we find traces of humanity in debris and litter, the abandoned tents of migrant workers, the ruins of kampungs and colonial barracks, and cast aside dustbins. And all this, amongst the fast-growing life that finds its way despite civilization. From non-native Albizia trees to generations of Samba Deer (from those that escaped the Singapore Zoo in the 1970s). 

nature art singapore seeing forest

Through an assemblage of video works and sculptural installations, the exhibition explores the lesser-known stories of intersection for colonisation, migration, sustainability, and discovery, delving into moments of apparent dependence between human society and nature. At the same time, it suggests that as forests that edge a city, especially one that is so carefully planned, lives one of the most interesting and intense frontiers in existence.

Head down to the exhibition and “trek” through Singapore’s secondary forest’s manifold worlds within: discover our landscape’s histories of settlement, colonisation, migration, and mutual co-existence amongst species. Beyond the purely natural, viewers will also be invited to examine the ways in which human urban design can shape the natural world, and result in a new ecosystem of migrant species.

the Biennale Arte.

Commissioned by NAC and organised by SAM, this year marks Singapore’s 11th participation at the Biennale Arte. Catch a first glimpse of Zhao’s work at the Singapore Pavilion on Wednesday, 17 April 2024 at the Arsenale’s Sale d’Armi, or discover Zhao’s work at SAM, Tanjong Pagar Distripark (for local audiences), in January 2025.

Loved this article? Check out The Bus Collective in Changi Village, or head to these 12 thrift shops in Singapore for fashionable & sustainable bargains!

siti ayeeshah zaki

Writer, dreamer and explorer. When she’s not writing for Strada Visual Lab, Ayeeshah spends her time reading, skating and living life to her definition of fullest.

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