SINGAPORE: This December, the National Museum of Singapore's glass rotunda will reopen after two years of renovation work, with two permanent art installations on the flora and fauna of Southeast Asia.
The renovation is part of the museum's S$10 million revamp which it announced in 2014, eight years after the glass rotunda first opened.
When completed, its 15-metre-high ceiling and 80-metre passage will be turned into an interactive digital space that will focus on the region's rich ecological history.
Work in progress at the Glass Rotunda. (Photo: Syahida Othman)
Close to 70 drawings from the museum's prized collection - the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings at the Goh Seng Choo Gallery - will be brought to life through interactive 3D animation projected on the rotunda.
The work, titled Story of the Forest is a partnership with renowned Japanese creative group teamLab. The museum’s assistant curator Iman Ismail said the inspiration came from Singapore's reputation as a garden city.
“They were sharing with me about what Singapore is and how they felt that Singapore is a very green, clean country,” he said. “So we worked on that idea and we introduced to them the collection that we had - the drawings by (Singapore's first British Resident) William Farquhar.”
The art piece was brought to life with the help of about 60 projectors. (Image: teamLab)
The installation proved to be one of the most challenging works to date. Apart from its sheer size, choosing the relevant drawings from the hundreds of pieces from the collection was demanding as well.
“The challenges are having to sift through, firstly, all the 477 drawings from the collection because there are so many flowers, trees, plants, animals to choose from,” said Mr Iman. “We needed to make it relevant especially with what we can find in Singapore and in the region today, and have that connection and conversation between a past, where the drawings came from, and what it is today.”
The installation has close to 70 drawings from William Farquhar's Collection of Natural History Drawings. (Image: teamLab)
Some highlighted works include the frangipani, hibiscus, as well as creatures like the sun bear and the tapir.
“There's this young, cute tapir - the way that teamLab presents them - animated and it moves slowly, trying to find its way and it seems like it's also trying to find its parents as it walks around, kind of engaging in a way because as the audience, we kind of wonder why and what he's doing, “ said Mr Iman.
“I had this very interesting conversation with a colleague about when the frangipani is around and the different connotations, and the different associations it has,” he added. “I think one of them was how, when we smell frangipani, it's not a good sign because it's something unseen around you, and then you kind of just have to move on.
"So it's playing with that, actually, the different histories associated with it.”
The second installation, called Singapore, Very Old Tree sits at the foot of the rotunda as visitors leave the space. It is by local photographer and artist Robert Zhao, and comprises 17 images of Singapore's trees, including personal stories associated with each plant.
Singapore, Very Old Tree, features the Monkey God Tree in Jurong West in 2015 by Robert Zhao. (Image: Collection of the National Museum of Singapore)
The work is inspired by one of the oldest postcards found in the National Archives of Singapore that depicted an unspecified tree from the year 1904.
Story of the Forest and the Singapore, Very Old Tree are the first of what museum officials said are many projects that will provide a dialogue between the historical and the contemporary.
“Through both installations, we hope to offer our visitors new ways of looking at Singapore’s history and culture,” said Angelita Teo, Director of the National Museum of Singapore.
The revamped rotunda opens on Dec 10.