What you didn't know about Singaporean artist Charles Lim's National Gallery Singapore Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden commission

What you didn't know about Singaporean artist Charles Lim's National Gallery Singapore Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden commission

Green state

Text: Ethan Lee

Editor: Aravin Sandran

Image: National Gallery Singapore

Singaporean artist Charles Lim Yi Yong has transformed National Gallery Singapore's Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden into a reclaimed landscape as part of the gallery's ongoing Roof Garden commission series. Titled "SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden", the artwork marks the gallery's first Roof Garden commission by a Singaporean artist (the previous work featured a bamboo tea house by Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija) and Lim's first extensive takeover of a large physical space. We found little context or background information provided at the site, so we thought it'll be helpful if we asked the artist himself to clarify a few questions about the main issues surrounding his work.


How many species are there?
There are over 30 now. I'm taking plants from various reclamation sites across Singapore and planting them here. Let's see whether they'll grow.

Reclamation has become a sensitive subject in recent years, hasn't it?
In fact, it has become a classified defence issue. If you sell sand to Singapore, you actually have to sign an non-disclosure agreement. Much of the areas are sensitive too. It's near where Malaysia and Singapore had that whole tiff recently.

Do you think that you're one of first few people who have managed to transport organic material away from the reclaimed sites?
I've been doing it for quite some time, but it's different now that I'm working with the museum. It's a good thing that I've received more money, but I got a minder that watched over me all the time.

Did you have contact with any of the folks from the award-winning Singapoream film A Land Imagined, which also touched on the subject of land reclamation?
The people who worked on that movie were also involved in my project. I think it's a good thing to see that we, as a nation, are moving to a point where we can have a dialogue within ourselves. The film tackled the issue of labour while my project focuses more on the ecology.

What has been the most fascinating part of putting this project together?
Once when we went on site, we stumbled upon a plant that's supposed to be extinct in Singapore. It was surprising to find it on a piece of reclaimed land that's only about 20 years old. The second time I went there, the botanist I went with tagged the plant and informed the National Parks Board, who then informed JTC. They are now trying to use this plant to revitalize mangrove swamps in Pulau Ubin. 

Are you aware the short documentary "Lost World" that explored the impact of Singapore's reclamation efforts on Cambodia?
Yes, it actually has footage that I filmed while working on SEASTATE 9: proclamation garden. I passed them three of my videos because I believe that we need that kind of exchange.

Besides the installation on the Roof Garden, I believe you'll be releasing a podcast and visual essay. What can you tell us?
For the 30-minute podcast, I've interviewed HDB, botanists and all these experts. There'll also be some noise that I've recorded while walking on the reclaimed lands. The podcast will be hosted on the gallery's website and the Gallery Explorer app. A catalogue featuring full-colour profile images of the new plants at the roof garden will also be published to accompany the commission. 

Admission to the Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery is free. SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden is on view until 27 October 2019.

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