The bird

Railtrack Songmaps is a multimedia visual art installation.
Railtrack Songmaps is a multimedia visual art installation. PHOTO: LUCY DAVIS AND KEE YA TING

Featured in: The Shape Of A Bird by Saga Seed Theatre and Railtrack Songmaps by Migrant Ecologies Project

What to expect: The bird, a motif of flight and freedom in Singapore playwright Jean Tay's new play, is also the subject of an interdisciplinary research project mapping Singapore stories and songs of birds in the Tanglin Halt and Rail Corridor area.

Tay, 41, wrote The Shape Of A Bird after hearing a Chinese writer speak about her struggle with censorship during China's Cultural Revolution. "Her example was, what if you can't even write about a bird? You have to write around the shape of the bird. I found that to be a beautiful metaphor," she says.

The play, which will be staged using methods such as puppetry, is a meta-narrative about an imprisoned author who turns to writing stories and letters to her daughter. These stories also come alive on stage.


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The bird appeared to Tay again in the form of a broken wing she chanced upon while walking in the woods at a writers' workshop in Italy.

"Birds are, to me, the impulse of freedom and agility. They are the perfect embodiment of the flight of imagination," she says.

The story also features the cicada as a symbol of oppression.

Tay adds: "I remember the cicadas from my trip to China. In the afternoon, the sound they made was deafening. It was a terrifying chorus of uniformity, the type that drowns out your voice. So pairing those together makes for a strong contrast."

The sold-out production is staged by Saga Seed Theatre, a group Tay started this year to support new Singapore writing.

While words are her chosen instrument, Railtrack Songmaps, on the other hand, is a multimedia visual art installation by the research group Migrant Ecologies Project, to document and investigate development in the area near The Rail Corridor and Tanglin Halt, which is populated by more than 100 species of birds.

It is led by assistant professor Lucy Davis, 45, from Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design and Media.

She says: "This entire area is in a period of transition. And we've found that there's a particular investment in biodiversity here, in bird life in particular."

Visitors can use an interactive electronic console to bring up recorded bird songs and view short films about birds in the area.

Prof Davis says: "This is an inquiry, so we don't take a moral stand. We have studied the area, we interview residents, bird lovers and people who poach the birds. This project looks at the multiplicity of stories and the desire of humans to connect with our natural other."

Lee Jian Xuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'The bird'. Subscribe