Sowing seeds of inspiration

Nestled in a pocket of the Flower Dome conservatory at Gardens by the Bay is an exhibition featuring 52 sculptures of seeds.

The sculptures, in coats of vibrant blue and silky red paint or gleaming bronze may seem fantastical, but they are made to resemble nature as much as possible, says Italian artist Roberto Visani.

The 39-year-old, who has been crafting seed sculptures for 15 years, says in Italian through a translator: "We live in a fast-paced world and people don't usually stop to look at things closely. "We take for granted the trees and plants that grow around us and don't realise that they come from tiny seeds."

While the size of the seeds is not true to life, the artist is adamant about keeping the purity of their forms.

He says: "People have said some of my sculptures look like animals, that the chive seed sculpture looks like a snail or an orchid seed sculpture looks like a crocodile, but that is because they don't know what the seeds look like."

He sculpts in both terracotta and bronze and the choice depends on the features of a seed that he wants to play up. He uses bronze to highlight the form or texture of a seed as well as to convey its preciousness. Terracotta, on the other hand, is his medium of choice when sculpting colour-rich seeds and he applies layers of paint to the clay to achieve intense jewel tones.

A mixture of both types of sculptures is in the exhibition, which marks Visani's debut outside of Italy. It is also the first time that his sculptures, usually displayed in art galleries or parks, are shown in a conservatory.

The pieces, made between 2007 and this year, are also exhibited in a fresh format - in glass cabinets rather than as standalone pieces. The new way of display lends the pieces a scientific feel and emphasises the methodical approach of his art.

Visani has a database of 4,000 seeds from around the world and a physical collection of almost 1,000 seeds kept in small boxes in his apartment in Rome, which he mines for inspiration. He also works closely with the botanical garden in Rome in his research of seeds to ensure that his sculptures are anatomically accurate.

He grows his collection of seeds by foraging for them. When he was here for the opening of the exhibition last week, for example, he stopped by the Singapore Botanic Gardens and picked seeds off the ground. He says the spell of heavy rain the night before his visit to the gardens resulted in a bounty of almost 50 different types of seeds.

His love for seeds began when he was an art student at the Accademia Di Belle Arti in Milan, captivated by the majestic trees in the gardens next to the school.

"I wanted to know where these trees came from and my desire to understand them led me to go deeper, literally, into the ground and to look at seeds," he says.

After 15 years of studying and sculpting seeds, he says he is still awestruck and fascinated by these organisms.

He says: "Every seed is different in life, form and colour and I want to keep highlighting the importance of seeds. They are a powerful symbol of life and beginnings."