You already know the negative impact of forest fires to our environment, but you've never seen it quite like this before. As Indonesia's Sumatra region continues to remind us annually of the harmful consequences of irresponsible forest burning (thanks for nothing, guys), the visual impact has always been a mere image from a news report. Sculptor Han Sai Por has been confronting the bleak narrative of such environments since the debut of the 'Black Forest' series in 2011 — but this time, she's added a layer of hope.
The 'Black Forest' series is one of many works by Han in her continued relationship with nature and its materials. Often using the medium itself to tell a story, the 72-year-old Cultural Medallion has works scattered all over Singapore, with her signature on objects you've probably passed by a hundred times without giving much thought to. In the CBD alone, her sculptures are seen at One Marina Boulevard, Suntec City, UOB Plaza and Capital Tower — yes, those coloured glass balls over a water feature are part of Han's 'Shimmering Pearls', created in 1999.
Singapore Biennale 2016's commission for Han sees her as the only artist occupying the third level of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), with an entire room dressed in black and white. At the opening weekend, visitors were seen coming as close as they could trying to dissect the work, which comprises of black wood logs of different forms lying on a bed of charcoal. At first glance, it is bleak, depressing but deliciously orchestrated like an urban city. While some visitors chose to snap their obligatory "ootd" photos, a few sat in quiet contemplation. In a corner, Han paced around her sculptures as the unassuming artist dressed — trendily, we should add — in denim on denim.
Sharing that she wished SAM's ceiling was higher to accommodate even taller wood logs, Han informs us of the lengths she took to create this new addition to the series. After sourcing for logs from the side of roads in Singapore, Han painstakingly painted each piece of wood herself in her studio at Goodman Arts Centre. Differing from her past editions of the series, her logs and stumps are all standing upright instead of lying helplessly on the ground. Representing the tenacity of mother nature, the logs, while charred, continue to stand their ground in the face of a dying environment. As it turns out, there's hope even in the darkest of places.
Singapore Biennale 2016 runs till 26 February. For more information, click here.