Bleak landscape warns of destruction

Bleak landscape warns of destruction

SINGAPORE - The darkened interior of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts gallery suggests it is closed to visitors but push past the doors without pause.

Once on the other side, the latest exhibition by acclaimed Singapore sculptor Han Sai Por surrounds viewers in a stirring, monochrome space filled with more than 70 sculptures and paintings. The works are priced for sale from $12,000 to $32,000.

Her seventh solo show, titled Black Forest 2013, is a sublime elegy on man's destruction of nature through activities such as deforestation. The issue has fuelled her artistic creation in recent years, spurred by spells of forest fire-induced haze that have enveloped Singapore in the past.

Indeed, this show is a sequel to her similarly titled exhibition at The Esplanade in 2011, where paintings of scorched trees and razed forests were displayed alongside a carpet of charcoal.

Han, who is 70 and single, acknowledges the new exhibition revisits familiar ground and mediums, but the soft-spoken artist says she found herself with "more to say" on the topic after her last show.

"Man destroys the environment but he also wants to recreate it and save it. For example, there are seed banks to prevent plants from dying out in case of man-made disasters," says Han, who took up a landscape architecture course at New Zealand's Lincoln University from 2004 to 2008.

She adds: "My intention is to show through my art how man really wants to control nature and the environment."

In view of this, the exhibition opens with the Saving Seed series where polished sculptures bring to mind precious seeds kept in storage banks to ensure their survival. It then segues into the Genetic Plant series, which point to man's manipulation of plants for agricultural gains at unforeseen costs.

The piece de resistance is the work titled Deforestation, which sprawls over almost a third of the spacious gallery and includes paintings, found objects such as branches, and a video playing scenes of nature devastated by man.

A key component of the installation is an 11m- long carpet of charcoal - some 600kg were used - with slightly bigger stumps of blackened wood artfully arranged on it, framing a large tree trunk dyed black. At the end of the passage, a painting of a burnt forest hangs on the wall.

In some ways, this grim, visceral vision evokes Han's childhood experience of the terrifying spectacle of forest fires.

Then a 10-year-old, she was alone at home, a thatched-roofed dwelling in a woodsy part of East Coast, when she spotted the fire. "It was probably 20m away and fast approaching. I did not have neighbours nearby and I couldn't call anyone for help so I went to the well to get water and splashed it all over the house to prevent it from burning," she says.

Fortunately, villagers arrived in time to stamp out the fire before it reached her house.

On the ravaged landscape as a motif in her art, she says: "The tropical forest is a signature of the South-east Asian landscape but if I painted it, it would be just showing the surface of things. I wanted to dig deeper into issues we face with the environment."

And she does not limit herself to just sculpture to express her ideas. "Most people know I'm a stone sculptor. They have seen my commissioned sculptures around Singapore. But when I have an idea for an exhibition, I don't want people to see me as just someone who makes beautiful shapes and forms in stone," she says.

"I want to get my message, my philosophy on social and environmental problems, through in my exhibitions."

The show, bathed in monochrome and resoundingly crystal on the conflict between man and nature, is not all bleak, she says.

"Black makes a strong statement about the sorrow one feels for a destroyed landscape but if someone enjoys the sculptures and thinks they are nice, they could leave happy."

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