Sowing seeds of thought

For more than a year, artist Lavender Chang, 32, has been sowing seeds in public spaces, watching them grow and photographing them. But she is no avid gardener gone rogue.

She performs this planting ritual to articulate her thoughts about what it means for newcomers to a society to sink roots and fit in.

The photographs from this series, titled I Walked, And Laid Down On This Warm Bare Earth, make up part of her ongoing solo show at the Alliance Francaise de Singapour in Sarkies Road. The 17 works in the show are priced for sale from $3,000.

The issue of migration and assimilation is close to her heart. A Singapore permanent resident, she was born in Taiwan and came to Singapore in the late 1990s, when she was in her teens, to pursue further studies.


Lavender Chang's The Movingly Minute Scale Of A Restricted Life #24-616 (above), one of the photographs in her solo show. PHOTO: LAVENDER CHANG

An alumnus of the Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design and Media, she says she felt a nagging sense of displacement last year when she travelled to Taiwan.

She says: "I kept getting asked by people there if I'm from Singapore because of the way I speak. I also found myself unfamiliar with things there having been away for some years. But in Singapore, I sometimes feel like an outsider too."

Her ruminations about the issue and her interest in conceptual photography led her to revisit neighbourhoods in Singapore where she has lived and scatter different types of beans in random patches of grass by the road, parks and buildings - transient, public spaces where the seedlings are susceptible to being trampled on or removed by passers-by.

To her, the sprouts resemble "little human forms" and their survival symbolises man's resilience and ability to embrace a foreign environment.

It was around this time that she started a separate photographic series of work that also features beansprouts, but as a motif of the family.

Chang, who has two younger brothers in their 20s and 30s, says: "When I did this other seed series, my family members were struggling with misunderstandings with one another.

"We love one another and do what we think is best and we expect them to act in a certain way in return, but this isn't always the case."

As she shared her frustration with friends, she realised that they, too, have their own familial woes and that the cause of strife is often differing views among family members.

  • VIEW IT / THE MOVINGLY MINUTE SCALE OF A RESTRICTED LIFE

  • WHERE: Alliance Francaise de Singapour, 1 Sarkies Road

    WHEN: Till Aug 13, noon to 8pm (weekday), noon to 6pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday

    ADMISSION: Free

To embody this, she put bean- sprouts in a pinhole camera she made, albeit with multiple holes for light exposure. The camera is placed next to a window in the home of a friend for two days to capture a portrait of the plants on photographic paper placed within the camera.

The image photographed is not of a single view, but a jumble of different perspectives caused by the multiple holes in the camera.

She says: "The box acts like a house and outsiders looking at it cannot tell what is inside - the stories, secrets and tension in a family."

The images from this series of work, titled The Movingly Minute Scale Of A Restricted Life, are shown in the exhibition as a single group of pictures as well as in the form of a video projection in a darkened room.

She says: "My art is closely related to my experiences and making them is a self-healing process for me. It allows me to observe things from a distance and when I see the bean- sprouts grow, I feel the joy of life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Sowing seeds of thought'. Print Edition | Subscribe