Wood is an indispensable part of people's daily lives, forming the backbone of many types of furniture and household objects. But just where does all that wood come from?
That question was what struck Lucy Davis, assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design & Media, when she looked at her teak bed six years ago.
That curiosity sparked off her Migrant Ecologies project, which she formally founded in 2010. What began as an inquiry into the origins of a piece of wood mushroomed into a wide-ranging project, which examined human relationships to trees, forests and forest products in South-east Asia.
The result of her venture is a series of photographs, videos, books and woodprint works produced by her and a few collaborators.
Several elements of the project will be on display in When You Get Closer To The Heart, You May Find Cracks..., a curatorial collaboration between the three-storey, 10,000 sq ft National University of Singapore Museum at Kent Ridge and Grey Projects, an alternative art space and residency located in a Tiong Bahru shophouse.
Assistant curator at the museum Kenneth Tay says: "To put it very simply, the exhibition may be said to present a constellation of stories and memories from the region about wood... Lucy's extensive research into these stories are important for the museum, given that it facilitates a thinking about and around South-east Asia."
The project also straddles the boundary between art and science, with documentative and creative photography and taking place alongside the DNA testing of wood fragments to trace their origins.
Jason Wee, founding artist of Grey Projects, says: "This show is challenging not just to scientists about what artists can bring, but also challenges art historians about different ways of writing art history and to think of an expanded notion of artistic research."
Migrant Ecologies has been exhibited before, at venues such as Post-Museum in Rowell Road in 2009 and at the Edinburgh International Science Festival last year.
This iteration of the project will feature several new woodprint works from Davis as well as photographs by Shannon Lee Castleman, visiting assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and local photographer Kee Ya Ting.
Co-curators Wee and Tay were brought together by Davis, who approached each separately.
Mr Tay says of Mr Wee: "Jason brings with him a diversity that is vital to a project such as this - he is an artist, curator and poet. Particularly, when thinking about the region itself as a migrant ecology, of peoples, materials and stories, the exhibition... must also be open to the thoughts and rhythms from the 'outside'."
Mr Wee says his partnership with Mr Tay is also based on a personal friendship. "Larger organisations can talk in terms of assets or money. With artist-run spaces and smaller projects, the kind of things we might share are premised on something a little different... things such as personal connections like friendships," he explains.
He says there are more collaborative projects in the pipeline for Grey Projects and NUS Musuem, with a focus on Davis' art.
"I think of what C.S. Lewis said about adults and children, that you become slightly different when talking to a child, and the child becomes different when talked to by an adult," says Mr Wee.
"I'd like to think that a 'child' like Grey Projects becomes different when talking to an older museum, and the NUS Museum becomes a little different as well."
This article was first published on July 1, 2014.
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