We Are Pushing Nature to the Corner. This Maze Shows You How

In Climate Change, Forest, Ocean, Sustainable Consumption, Sustainable Lifestyle
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Can art be the answer to saving the planet?

Earlier this month, an art installation called Plastikophobia by artists Von Wong and Laura François communicates the massive and dangerous amount of plastics that we use everyday. 18,000 cups were reportedly collected from hawker centres in Singapore over two days, washed and assembled into an art piece.

There is more.

Happening this weekend at Earth Hour, enter Nature’s Maze, a three-part maze installation which aims to highlight overconsumption that leads to the rapid of loss of nature.

The creators behind Nature’s Maze comprise of seven designers from the art collective HF/DF, an interdisciplinary collaboration between artist Gerald Leow and local design studio in the wild.

We have to admit: A huge ton of waste would be expected, especially in a large-scale event like Earth Hour. But not for Nature’s Maze, and a few other elements of the festival which include physical set-ups to operations that aim to reduce and reuse materials for new uses.

The best part of the five-week conceptualisation and execution process of the maze is how the designers make the conscious effort to make used materials a big part of their projects. “It is about a constant habit of keeping a lookout for things that might be useful in the future,” shared Cy Kim, one of the HF/DF designers.

We dropped a visit to their design studio and talked to Clara Yee, a HF/DF designer on everything zero-waste, materials they support and/or shy away from and more.

Disclaimer: spoilers on the maze ahead.

One key inspiration of Nature’s Maze

“We were looking through quite a fair bit of poetry and literature from Bruce Nauman to Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, Jean Tinguely’s sculptural machines and, of course, David Wallace-Well’s very visual text in The Uninhabitable Earth. But I think a key starting point for the whole team was the actual fact laid bare by WWF-Singapore in our first meeting about the amount of biodiversity we have lost and how we, in Singapore, are one of the biggest consumers of seafood in the world per capita and the majority of it is unsustainably sourced. It was a very heavy reminder of how human we are.”

We heard you spent a considerable amount of time collecting used goods around Singapore. Tell us more.

Designers Clara and Cy in a dump site near the design studio at Sembawang.

“The pre-production days were spent running across the whole island arranging and picking used materials and resources. What’s important, I would say, is the mental act of choosing to commit to working with minimal wastage or reusing our own waste with our very first purchase of machinery to process the materials in the studio. It’s really counter-intuitive in a city that is designed to outsource a lot of these issues.”

Making a conscious effort to minimise waste and stay away from single-use materials

Left: LDPE plastic (in black) is easily moulded for art pieces. Right: The pile of plastic bottle caps they have collected over time to be reused.

“We use LDPE plastic, which is very easily recycled and re-mouldable. We also chose to use OSB (wood) instead of plywood sheets. OSB is typically more expensive, but environmentally responsible, than the very resource-intensive plywood sheets. It’s a quirk of Singapore that plywood is much cheaper and seen as a disposable material. The living forest (from the maze) is created out of used textiles that we sourced and sorted through. We don’t shy away from upcycling non-recyclable materials as well, as long as we can re-contextualise the identity of the material and keep it away from the landfills for a few more life cycles.”

What it is like to work with recycled materials

“We’ve been upcycling or working with recyclable waste for awhile now, so we have our favourite spots to return to, but the nature of waste is that it is never consistent! It depends on what people have thrown out in bulk, so we often joke that our materials are like a chef’s “catch of the day”. It also takes the longest time to clean and prepare the waste materials for use in the maze.”

Most exciting part of the maze installation

“The fact that we are including electronics to the installation. This is our first time doing it, and we are very excited to see the final outcome.”

One thing worth exploring in the future to minimise waste

Remoulding materials is one of the key processes involved to reduce waste.

“We would be interested to explore a lot more mechanical kinetic parts, and also it is an endless process of researching different ways to treat and remould materials.”

Best alternative to using plastic in the maze installation

“This is going to sound so ironic, but plastic in itself is not an evil product. It is our consumption habits that needs to change. In our work, we try to treat plastic with the respect it deserves as well.”

One innovative (biodegradable) material that should be the new future

“I do not think it will be a single material, but our own small habits and actions. Even the most innovative or biodegradable material, when produced and distributed in the massive scale that our current consumption demands, will cause detrimental effects.”

Visit Nature’s Maze (free admission) at Earth Hour 2019, held on 29-31 March, at Marina Bay Sands, Event Plaza.

Read more about 10 reasons why you can’t afford to miss Earth Hour 2019 that is happening this weekend, why we should not ask our kids to solve the environmental problems we’ve created, and why we should stop saying the solution to climate change is education.

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