All images by the ICZ
and a great sign appeared
Film Still, And A Great Sign Appeared, 2021
Commissioned by The Institutum
And A Great Sign Appeared
Commissioned by the Silvana S Foundation Commission Award, 2020
Non-human species have always co-existed with human beings, even in highly urbanised areas. During the Covid-19 health crisis, when travel was limited, I started to look more closely at my everyday surroundings and became more sensitive to the proximity of non-human neighbours in the middle of built-up Singapore. This exhibition captures the dramatic and mundane encounters I had with the natural world during this time, and reflects the myriad connections between people, regions and wildlife across time and space.
Even as Covid-19 dominates news coverage, the climate crisis continues inexorably. Climate-driven range shifts for species have become a reality, and in Singapore, there was a dramatic example of this on Dec 22, 2019, when thousands of Asian open bill storks suddenly appeared in Singapore. Hailing from the northern parts of Southeast Asia, probably Thailand, they flew around Singapore for a week looking for a space to stay, but were unsuccessful and left. Thailand had been in the grip of an unseasonable drought, and the birds were looking for a more hospitable environment in which to live. Their appearance in Singapore reminds us that our region is connected ecologically, and that climate change has a transnational impact.
Another visitation happened on 5 June, 2020 - World Environment day, ironically - when a large colony of 100 flying foxes was seen flying over Singapore’s central catchment area. They stayed for about a week. The large bats could have flown to Singapore due to a disturbance to their habitats in neighbouring countries, probably Indonesia or Malaysia, from deforestation. This was a significant ecological event because flying foxes are extinct in Singapore, and the last time they were spotted here was in 2016.
Not all visitors were welcome, however. Around November 2020, barn swallows migrating through Singapore took up residence in a HDB block in Pasir Ris, occupying the ledges, corridors and rooftops. As the birds numbered in the thousands, some residents were distressed during this time. The birds stayed until March 2021 and left.
Other than these visitors from abroad, I was also interested in a sense of everyday neighbourliness we had with non-human species. At 7 p.m. sharp every evening, a single tree in a Choa Chu Kang HDB estate becomes alive with hundreds of long-tailed parakeets returning to their roost after a whole day of foraging. Nobody knows exactly why they are attracted to this tree and congregate there in such large numbers. The birds fly in big groups and chitter at a high volume, but the spectacle is over in less than 10 minutes as the parakeets settle in for the night. It is so subtle that most people would not notice the birds’ daily flight out if they were not paying attention — but if there was one luxury that the COVID-19 pandemic gave me, it was the time to do this.