Inspired by the felling of the trees at Fort Canning Rise, Robert Zhao’s latest work, The Tree That Fell, will deal with issues of ecology, disappearance, and loss. This installation will take place in The Substation Gallery, and is one of the events to mark The Substation’s 25th anniversary. Robert shares a little about his thoughts behind the work.
Chelsea Chua: What is The Tree That Fell about, and what informed your approach to the work?
Robert Zhao: The Tree That Fell talks about all the trees that were removed behind The Substation. There is one that was transplanted and will be replanted in the future (The Banyan tree that was in The Substation’s garden). My work has always been about man’s relationship with nature. In trying to understand and grasp nature, a lot of fiction and myths are created. This may be through different cultures and even science. These are just ways we try to understand nature. I am also looking more at nature from a more dormant point of view. Animals seem like an easy way to talk about nature, so I looked at the weather and I looked at plants. The removal of the trees at The Substation seemed like a good place to look at how people experience nature in Singapore.
CC: Why did you find the cutting down of the Banyan tree/trees behind The Substation so compelling? Do you think the tree has played a significant role in The Substation’s history?
RZ: Old trees have the tendency to play a significant part of the histories of the people who had close contact with them. A Banyan tree, like the one that was transplanted, demands attention. It is impossible to ignore a Banyan tree as it grows. It devours and blankets everything in its path with its aerial and grappling roots. In the process I think many things and stories get embedded in its roots. There is something romantic about the resilience of the Banyan Tree. It is an opportunistic plant and can grow well in cities, a sure sign that nature can survive with us, with or without our help.
CC: Do you have any personal stories to share about The Substation Banyan Tree?
RZ: An old Banyan tree makes a lot of difference if you can spend time with it. I am not sure if art is the best way to talk about my experiences with the trees behind The Substation. I tried my best to build a deeper understanding of the tree by camping underneath it. I found out that there was a new wilderness inside its roots. There were lots of insects and birds, much more than in the neighbourhood park at where I live. I begin to ask myself if the artificial natural parks we see all around Singapore really do support much life or maybe nature has her own plans in making a comeback in our concrete city. I saw a beautiful black iridescent beetle that I am sure I’ve never seen in my life. It only stayed among the aerial roots of the tree. I went back again last week and the beetles are still there. Isn’t that amazing?
Exhibition: The Tree That Fell
Dates: 28 August – 20 September
Venue: The Substation Gallery, 45 Armenian Street, Singapore 179936
Hours: 12pm – 8pm daily, closed on public holidays.