National Gallery Singapore's rooftop installation features living plants from reclamation sites

Reta Lee
Editor-in-Chief, Lifestyle
(PHOTO: National Gallery Singapore)

Singapore — Land reclamation has always been part of Singapore’s history in order to construct new space for a growing population. With this theme in mind, National Gallery Singapore has commissioned artist Charles Lim Yi Yong to transform its Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden into a social space that facilitates deeper understanding of the complexity and intricacies of the reclamation landscape. Titled SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden, it is the Gallery’s first Roof Garden Commission by a Singapore artist, and also Lim’s first extensive foray into re-designing a physical space for his work.


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Artist Charles Lim with botanical consultant Veera Sekaran. (PHOTO: Reta Lee/ Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Charles, a former Olympic sailor who has been documenting and researching this topic for a decade, worked with local botanical consultant Mr Veera Sekaran, founder of the urban greening company Greenology to grow unique plants he’s obtained from reclaimed areas like Changi, Tuas and the Southern Islands. “We didn’t know what would work. I’m just going to put the plants here, and if they survive, they survive, and if they don’t, they don’t,” Charles adds.

(From left to right) National Gallery Singapore’s Dr. Adele Tan, Charles Lim and Chris Lee, National  Gallery Singapore’s Chief Marketing Officer. (PHOTO: Reta Lee/ Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Dr Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore, says, “SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden reflects our commitment to broaden perspectives and provoke new ways of thinking through art. This artistic intervention of an existing physical space offers an accessible way to inform our visitors on the intricacies of the reclamation landscape prior to urbanisation – a complex yet important concept to help us better understand the environment around us.”

Working with the Gallery’s Senior Curator Dr Adele Tan, she opens up about how the process took place: “The gallery was supportive to explore the other regions of the roof garden to see how they can be embraced within the commission project itself. And so Charles and I were working through many different idea iterations, the gestation actually took quite a long time; we were working through crazy ideas like colouring the water, the water feature, inserting a mental structure through the roof. And all of this didn’t quite make it or it was really expensive. So after this period of gestation, Charles said, ‘Yeah, let’s just focus on the plants, because that’s a neglected part of this reclamation, a vision of Singapore.’”

(PHOTO: Reta Lee/ Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Visitors can enter the public space from today until 27 October 2019, and observe interesting botanical species like — the prickly Sandbur (Cenchrus Echinatus), the parasitic Seashore Dodder (Cassytha Filiformis) that survives by taking over a host tree, and even a Date Palm (Phoenix Dactylifera) that is thought to have propagated in the sand from a date seed that was discarded after consumption.

To accompany the exhibition, Charles will be releasing a podcast which will be hosted on the Gallery’s website and the Gallery Explorer app. There will also be an illustrated catalogue featuring full-colour profile images taken by the artist of the new plants at the roof garden.

(PHOTO: National Gallery Singapore)

As the process of gestation differs week on week, Charles hopes that this installation would further challenge him to share his enquiry, “into the multi-layered reclamation history in unconventional ways, where the plants’ transplantation and adaptation to thrive in the roof garden reflect Singapore’s urban and coastal development. I hope that they will spark renewed interest in the environment around us, and enable visitors to gather fresh insights.”

Admission to the Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery is free. For more information, please visit: