Museum Musings: the tree is the leaf is the land at DECK
Kwek Leng Joo Prize of Excellence in Photography 2018 recipients Ernest Wu and Woong Soak Teng are set to to finally present their showcase at DECK this May. Titled the tree is the leaf is the land, this exhibition marks the 9th edition of the annual showcase for the award recipients.
By adopting methods of collaboration with nature and the organic processes within, the exhibition seeks a renewed way of understanding leaves as fractals of the natural environment. the two artists. Exploring the beauty and intrinsic value of nature beyond its superficial role in our anthropocentric era, the works range from photographic prints to sculptural installations and moving image, and re-examines our relationship with nature through the simplest observation of a leaf.
Beginning with the observation of leaves in the cityscape, the holes created by insects, the changing colour of a leaf’s decomposition, and the effect that wind has on the trajectory of a leaf’s fall, both artists took time to meditate on these seemingly inconsequential existences while taking walks. By paying such close attention, the exhibition proposes that we can learn from it and apply the processes and perspectives to the world at large.
The exhibition structures itself around the idea of a walk and the observations and discoveries one makes along the way. Walking was a key process for both artists, with Ernest Wu having begun his explorations by catching instances of falling leaves as reminders to be mindful after spending some time at a meditation retreat. This meditative observation led to the process of figuring out a way to capture the trajectory and the infinite routes in which a leaf can take as it falls. The poetic images printed on fabric echo the leaves that it captures and the conversation they have with the wind. Says Ernest: “Between us, our methods and processes differ but what remains the same is a love for nature. We conceived the exhibition as a way to develop an awareness that even in the urban environment one can find a little piece of nature to observe and be in awe of.”
For Woong Soak Teng, her explorations involved the improvisation of a camera-less approach using the traditional darkroom and enlarger to engage found leaves as collaborators. Both detailed and abstract at once, the unique silver gelatin prints are reminiscent of ink marks, made possible by the natural processes that interact with each leaf over time. Says Soak Teng: “Our hope is for the audience to walk out of this exhibition feeling like they can look at a leaf a little differently, with a heightened awareness and understanding that a leaf is more than what we would usually think of.”
The conversation between the two artists culminates in the collaborative act of leaf raking. Mediated by a rake, they displace, draw, shift, mould, guide and ultimately gather the leaves in and out of formations. Their attempt to commune with nature ironically reflects man’s relationship with nature – one of disruptive intervention and violence beneath the peaceful veneer. The rakes thus become symbols of this relationship.
Perhaps by viewing this exhibition, we discover that we are not so different from the leaves that fall, not so different from the diseased veins and not so different from the decomposition of our material selves into its constituent parts. It is only through developing an understanding of something seemingly insignificant that we can perhaps understand ourselves and our relationship to nature.
the tree is the leaf is the land runs at DECK from 15th May to 2nd June 2019. For more information, visit their website here