Film-maker behind orchid show

More than 14,000 orchids of 120 varieties are showcased amid tingkat carriers (above) and shophouse facades at the Orchid Extravaganza. Its creative director is Singaporean film-maker Royston Tan (left).
More than 14,000 orchids of 120 varieties are showcased amid tingkat carriers (above) and shophouse facades at the Orchid Extravaganza. Its creative director is Singaporean film-maker Royston Tan.ST PHOTOS: LEE JIA WEN
More than 14,000 orchids of 120 varieties are showcased amid tingkat carriers (above) and shophouse facades at the Orchid Extravaganza. Its creative director is Singaporean film-maker Royston Tan (left).
More than 14,000 orchids of 120 varieties are showcased amid tingkat carriers and shophouse facades at the Orchid Extravaganza. Its creative director is Singaporean film-maker Royston Tan (above).ST PHOTOS: LEE JIA WEN

Think of award-winning film-maker Royston Tan and flowers - not to mention an extravaganza of thousands of them - are not the first things that come to mind.

"For the past 40 years, all my plants have died," jokes the 42-year-old Singaporean, who once tried growing roses and orchids at home with little success.

This year, however, he accepted an invitation to be creative director of the Gardens by the Bay's Orchid Extravaganza, a Peranakan-inspired display of more than 14,000 orchids of 120 varieties held in conjunction with the Singapore Garden Festival.

The blooms, which are being showcased at the Gardens' Flower Dome until Aug 22, range from the light purple and white Phalaenopsis Tinny Honey to the spicy-sweet scented Perreiraara Tony Tan Keng Yam.

They are found amid shophouse facades as well as tingkat carriers, beaded slippers and kebayas on loan from The Intan museum.

Tan wanted to create a display that represents Singapore's multicultural heritage. "Shophouses meant a lot to me as a child. Many different races lived in shophouses, like in Chinatown, Arab Street and Serangoon," he says, adding that he received help from experts at the Gardens.

The flowers at the extravaganza pay homage to the colours of kueh and other local desserts.

Slipper orchids serve as an allusion to Nonya slippers, while colourful orchids - mainly Vanda, Aerides, Rhynchostylis and Phalaenopsis varieties - hanging from bamboo poles extended from shophouse facades are a nod to the practice of hanging clothes out to dry.

Meanwhile, "clouds" of overhanging orchids symbolise the smells and memories of shophouse neighbourhoods that linger after one has left the neighbourhood, Tan says.

 
 

He is known for feature films such as 15 (2003) and 3688 (2015), and is also behind Bunga Sayang (Flower Of Love), which won the Best Asian Short Film title at the Sapporo International Short Film Festival two years ago.

He approached the floral show from the perspective of a film-maker, presenting his proposal in the style of a play with three acts - approaching the exterior of a home, being invited into the courtyard and then departing with memories.

"Singapore is constantly evolving. In this exhibition, I'm trying to preserve memories that mean a lot of things to many Singaporeans."

Also on display at the extravaganza until July 29 will be orchids from the Singapore Orchid Growers' Association. There will be performances by the Gunong Sayang Association as well as Peranakan food promotions at various outlets at the Gardens.

The experience has planted a seed in the creative director's mind.

"I hope to do a short film about orchids," Tan says. "I think I have found a new love."

Toh Wen Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2018, with the headline 'Film-maker behind orchid show'. Print Edition | Subscribe