Opens 12 June NUS Museum Singapore: “When you get closer to the heart you may find cracks…”

NUS Museum presents an exhibition featuring encounters and exchanges between the arts and sciences, between practice and research, between the inquiring subject and the object inquired.

An interdisciplinary project, “When you get closer to the heart, you may find cracks” is a continued inquiry by the Migrant Ecologies Project into human relationships to trees, forests and forest products in Southeast Asia – explored in terms of materials, metaphors, magic, ecological resources and historical agency. In 2008, artist Lucy Davis embarked on an endeavour to recast fragments of the form and the content of the mid twentieth-century Singapore modern woodcut movement in a contemporary macro-context of “cutting of wood” (deforestation).This process led to an investigation into the genetic origins of one particular item of “cut wood” (a teak bed found in Singapore) in collaboration with Singapore startup DoubleHelix Tracking Technologies. The following journey has taken Davis’ team across the region in search of the diverse “aborealities” – connections between the peoples, trees and wood. A disappearance of forests in Southeast Asia accompanies a similar disappearance of stories with their attendant memories and practices. The work of the Migrant Ecologies can thus be seen as an attempt to remember and reanimate these tales.

“When you get closer to the heart, you may find cracks” will feature several new woodprint works from Davis alongside works by photographers Shannon Lee Castleman and Kee Ya Ting. Tales from two “Islands after a Timber Boom” comprise an underlying structure to the exhibition. The islands are Muna Island, Southeast Sulawesi, where early DNA tests have suggested as the origins of the wood from the teak bed; and Singapore island where Davis has been researching stories of Singapore’s entrepot timber industry in and around the Sungei Kadut Industrial Estate.

Finally in this exhibition, Davis is directly referencing for the first time the initial inspiration for this six-year research process: the Singapore modern woodcut movement. Fragments of iconic woodblock prints from NUS Museum collection are reconstructed in the show as animated shadows which weave in and out of the exhibition experience.

NUS Museum curator Kenneth Tay notes, “This project might be read as a proposition to rethink radically (radix-roots) the issues and problems of identity in the region, particularly in the context of ‘origins’, but also what sustains it and so on. Here, the inquiry towards the ‘origins’ of the teak bed throws up much more stories that only seem to both enrich but also obscure the question. We might then see the bed as the site of a primal scene unfolding, from bed to bedlam.”

“When you get closer to the heart, you may find cracks” is a curatorial collaboration between NUS Museum and Jason Wee from Grey Projects.

About the Migrant Ecologies Project

Migrant Ecologies Project was founded by Lucy Davis in 2010 as an umbrella for art practice‐led inquiries into questions of culture and nature in Southeast Asia. The Migrant Ecologies Project embraces concerned explorers, curious collectors, daughters of woodcutters, miners of memories and art by nature. The project evolves through and around past and present movements and migrations of naturecultures in art and life in Southeast Asia.

Collaborators have included Shannon Lee Castleman, Zailani Kunning, Zai Tang, Dr Shawn Lum, Shankar Iyerh, Dr Andrew Lowe, Kee Yating Hera, Farhana Ja’afar, Sing Ting Si Jemima, Ang Wei Tyng, Chan Phui Yung, Goh Wei Choon, Wee Jia Hui, Wee Nai De Mark, Jac Min, Edwina Ong Zhi, Michelle Yap Su Zhen, Farhana Jaffar, Ong Fang Zheng and Dennice Juwono.

For more information, please visit the official website of the Migrant Ecologies Project:

About Lucy Davis

Lucy Davis is Assistant Professor at the School of Art Design and Media (ADM), Nanyang Technological University Singapore and has over 15 years of experience of conceptualizing and coordinating interdisciplinary arts and society initiatives in Europe, Southeast Asia and West Africa.

Early explorations of stories of wood by The Migrant Ecologies project were finalists for the French Prix COAL Art & Ecology Prize in 2011. Davis’ Together Again (Wood:Cut) series was nominated for the APBC Signature Asia Pacific Art Prize Singapore Art Museum 2011). Her short film Jalan Jati (Teak Road) has toured widely and been screened at Rotterdam, Yamagata, The Los Angeles Fim Forum and the Barbican UK. Jalan Jati won Promotion Award of the International Festival at Oberhausen 2012 and Best Sound and Special Mention Animation in The Singapore Short Film Awards 2013.

Lucy is currently SEAsia Contributor for ANTENNAE, The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture (UK). Her writings on culture and nature are featured in a series of international anthologies and peer reviewed journals. Lucy was Founding Editor & Editor in Chief of the 6 volume series FOCAS Forum on Contemporary Art & Society from 2000- 2007. Alongside FOCAS, Lucy has published in The DOCUMENTA #12 READER (Taschen); BROADSHEET Art & Culture (Australia); Art Asia Pacific (Sydney/New York); Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (Routledge); NU The Nordic Art Review (Stockholm).

About Jason Wee

Jason is an artist and writer who lives in Singapore and New York. His practice takes up the dilemmas, conflicts, and varieties of parallax in people’s interpretation of specific histories and spaces. These spaces may be an island, a school, cinema, city, or museum, the events historical moments of particular intensity. These events and spaces are, for him, conundrums of enigma, idealism and unexplored futures.

Jason founded and runs Grey Projects, an alternative art space and residency that focuses on nascent practices and experimental curatorship. He is an editor for and previously editor of Vehicle arts journal, published by artist-run space Plastique Kinetic Worms.




All text and images are taken from NUS Museum


Upcoming Event: The Green Heart inside the Red Dot

Nominated Member of Parliament Faizah Jamal kicks off the evening by giving a short introduction on the background of the Cross Island Line through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve issue, making references to the Population White Paper Land Use Plan. She will also talk about the engagement between nature groups and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on this issue.

Tony O’Dempsey will be speaking about the importance of preserving our natural heritage through the Nature Reserves. He will be discussing what is so special about the Central Catchment Nature reserve and how it is more than just “green Space”. Tony will talk in detail about the various threats to our native habitats including the current issue of the Cross Island Line proposed by the LTA as part of its 2013 Master Plan.

Also we’ve heard how an arborist is a ‘protector’ of trees and many of them work for a particular government agency. What does Goh Mia Chun as an arborist do in his tree consultancy firm and what is his role in protecting trees? Find out more…

Date: 23 October 2013 (Wednesday)
Time: 6.30pm  onwards
Venue: The Hub, National Youth Council Academy, 113 Somerset Road
RSVP: Email us at or register at

We hope you can join us!

About our speakers

Faizah Jamal

For more than 25 years, Faizah Jamal has been an advocate for the environment, which started with her forays into the Malaysian forests and the volcanoes in Indonesia as a member of the (then) Malayan Nature Society now known as the Nature Society Singapore.

Formerly a Corporate Lawyer with a law degree from NUS, Faizah had specialized in Intellectual Property Law with top law firms Drew & Napier and Haq & Selvam in Singapore.
Faizah is also a recipient of the European Community (now European Union) Post-graduate Scholarship for ASEAN nationals in Environment Studies in 1992, and has a Master’s degree in Environment Law from King’s College, University of London.

In 2003 Faizah gave up corporate law to pursue her passion for the environment and embarked on a second career as a full time Environment Educator, leading students towards an awareness of, and love for Nature.

Since 2008, Faizah is an Adjunct Lecturer with Republic Polytechnic, pioneering the Environment Education module , where she not only guides young people to be eco–literate, through skillful facilitation, she also encourages her students to reflect deeply on the intangible lessons from Nature in leading examined lives.

In Feb 2012 Faizah was appointed as a Nominated Member of Parliament, after her successful nomination by Nature Society Singapore specifically to represent environment concerns in Parliament.

Most notably, Faizah voted against the White Paper in Parliament in Feb 2013, charging that it is a document that thinks only ‘with the head, and not with the heart’. In particular, she had questioned the government’s plans to build an MRT line cutting through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and had been vocal in expressing her views against it.

Tony O’Dempsey

Tony is a current council member of the Nature Society (Singapore) and former chair of its Vertebrate Study Group. He is also the author Tony has been working as a volunteer on various conservation projects relating to the Nature Reserves for the past 20 years and is very familiar with the forest habitats of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. He is also the principle editor of the NSS Position paper on the Cross Island Line.

The Straits Times: Game-changers in ecology research

The Straits Times has reported that it is now easier to gather field data with technology like sensors.

Game-changers in ecology research

ECOLOGY research often involves trekking deep into the jungle for hours, or taking thousands of time-consuming, tedious tree measurements.

But researchers have come up with new technologies to get around these issues, in a foretaste of the future of ecology and conservation research.

Singapore firm BioMachines, started by three engineers and a biologist a year ago, can put together any combination of sensors to monitor tree girth, say, and beam data to researchers each time the tree grows.

The start-up uses commercially available or custom sensors.

At its heart lies a set of instructions to make the various sensors, even those of different brands that use different technology, talk to each other and transmit data en masse via Wi-Fi, ZigBee, GSM or other wireless communication methods.

The start-up has a four-month-old test site at Nanyang Technological University’s National Institute of Education (NIE), and is testing the equipment on a couple of scrawny trees with NIE natural sciences researchers Shawn Lum and Ngo Kang Min.

Usually, it takes several months, working in teams, to measure every tree in a 2ha Bukit Timah study site, Ms Ngo said.

It is a painstaking process. While the new method does not replace all fieldwork, measuring trees digitally rather than by hand could cut fieldwork time by half.

So what would Ms Ngo do with the time saved?

‘I would have more time to analyse the data,’ she said. ‘Maybe look at new projects.’

The system’s parts still have to be trekked into the forest, but once they are there, they can be installed and left for weeks or months.

It can be solar-powered, and its range, cost and energy use depend on how many sensors are used and how often they have to transmit data, explained BioMachines co-founder Sven Yeo, 27.

Now, NIE’s partner institution, the United States-based Smithsonian Institute Centre for Tropical Forest Science, is interested in using larger-scale systems at its field site in Panama.

These could also measure wind speed, temperature and even the strain that high winds put on trees.

Meanwhile, Switzerland-based Singaporean Dr Koh Lian Pin has turned a remote-controlled model airplane into a low-cost conservation tool.

In his studies of tropical deforestation, the assistant professor of applied ecology & conservation at the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) needed quick, real-time information on tree felling, but found that satellites did not pass over his research areas often enough – and cloudy tropical weather meant the images were often obscured.

So Dr Koh, who is also an adjunct assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, and his University of Zurich colleague Dr Serge Wich used open-source software to turn a model plane into a drone that flies itself over a programmed course.

They attached cameras to capture photos and videos, and flew more than 30 test missions in Sumatra without a single crash, covering some 50ha in one 25-minute flight.

The whole system costs less than US$2,500 (S$3,160) and can be carried to a field site in a backpack.

At their website,, Dr Koh and Dr Wich have outlined how to build, program and use the lightweight craft so that scientists in developing countries can adopt the method.

In fact, the drones are already being used to monitor elephant habitats in Peninsular Malaysia.

‘We believe conservation drones… might soon become a standard technique in conservation efforts and research in the tropics and elsewhere,’ they wrote.

Image from McPig