The tropical forest is known by a variety of names such as silva foretis, tropical savannah, Amazonia and so on. The names more commonly used interchangeably with it – the ‘jungle’ and the ‘rainforest’ – however, conjure such contrasting representations that it seems inconceivable that these terms could refer to the same thing. The word ‘jungle’ often evokes an uncultivated, imagined landscape. Coloured by colonial prejudice, the tropical forest is projected as a jungle terrain teeming with unknown dangers, savage and uncontrollable. Yet, its image oscillates between a tamed sanctuary and a refuge for re/de-sistance. In contrast, the word ‘rainforest’ rejects imagination. It is a scientific term denoted by characteristics of climatic, geographical conditions, typologies of life forms and reports of environmental concerns.
Throughout history and up till today, representations of the tropical forest have been motivated by these varied notions, producing images and narratives which condense the forest’s rich abundance, its myriad of life, narratives, forms and symbols into a pale facsimile of itself – either transformed into idealistic cliché and trite symbolism, or worse, dry observation or reports driven by forest ethnography.
The project takes ‘topography’ as an underlying concept to critically examine the aesthetics of the tropical forest. It connects details to larger things – natural features to global stories, personal experience to cultural symbolism. This approach acknowledges slippages and allows these meanings to be redefined and transformed because the definition of ‘topography’ itself is so indistinct and abstruse.
Blueprints for the Forest: an exploration into tropical aesthetics is a work-in-progress presentation by Donna Ong that seeks to highlight the problems of tropical representation and invites the audience to explore alternative ways of description and representation through the display and transformation of existing imagery.
Venue: Earl Lu Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore (ICAS), LASALLE College of the Arts.
When: 30 Jan - 17 Mar 2021, 12noon - 7pm (Monday – Saturday, closed on Sunday and public holidays)