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Art of sprouting roots overseas
HOW do beans grow in different environments? When Taiwan-born artist Lavender Chang pondered her life in Singapore as a permanent resident, she used the hardy bean as a metaphor for humans who adapt and put down roots on foreign soil.
Now that germ of an idea has grown and she's expanded this metaphor to look at family relations - by photographing the bean plants as they grow in cereal boxes in different homes across Singapore.
Using the technique of solargraphy, where the box acts like a camera with one pinhole for natural light to come through, she captured portraits of the growing bean plants, and also the view from the window of the various homes.
"The cereal boxes are like black boxes of the unknown, parallel to how families are often impenetrable to the outsider despite the common issues they face," explains the 32-year-old artist.
She refers to the art theory that the family photo is a cryptic vault of power, pain and secrets as much as it is an instrument for displaying cohesion and togetherness.
Chang's solo, The Movingly Minute Scale of a Restricted Life, is on at Alliance Francaise - featuring the photo prints of 15 families and also some images from the series that won her a prize last year. She was the winner in the sixth France and Singapore Photographic Arts Awards (FSPAA) with her series, I Walked, and Laid Down on This Warm, Bare Earth, in 2015.
In that exhibition, she also used beans - by planting them in five different areas in Singapore where she had stayed before and photographing them over a period of two weeks, to see how they took root and grew. For that project, it's an apt metaphor of how immigrants find themselves growing in a foreign land - a very personal issue with Chang herself as a Taiwanese.
Chang immigrated to Singapore with her parents. A junior high school student then, she studied visual communications at Temasek Polytechnic, followed by a degree art course at Nanyang Technological University.
Life was moving along well until she came across her first xenophobic encounter at an anti-foreign immigrant rally in Hong Lim Park in 2012, which disturbed her and also inspired a series of art works examining the idea of adaptation and also the idea of home. "I've never felt unwelcome before this, nor felt my 'foreignness'," she relates.
After more than a decade in Singapore, she also feels her disconnect with Taiwan. That spurred the series, A Dissection of…, where she interviewed people about their favourite hawker food that reminded them of home, and featured photographs of the dish, with their cooked ingredients taken apart. Having studied drawing and painting, Chang picked up and majored in photography only when she was in the polytechnic. Singaporean photographer John Clang's works - shown as his first solo at The Esplanade's Jendela Gallery - was one of the earliest inspirations. She later got to know him through her coursework and was also mentored by him for a year. "What he taught us is not about technique but how to better understand ourselves and our own voices," she shares.
"Not that we had planned to do projects using opposite optical devices," she quips, about their respective solo exhibitions. Chang is also the director of photography for Clang's art film project which is almost completed.
Alliance Francaise presents Lavender Chang's The Movingly Minute Scale of a Restricted Life solo from July Aug 8-13 at Societe Generale Gallery, 1 Sarkies Road, Level 2 Singapore. Viewing hours are Mon-Fri, 12pm to 8pm; Sat, 12pm to 6pm. Closed on Sun and public holidays