Jalan Jati - “Teak Road"

By The Migrant Ecologies Project (Lucy Davis & Collaborators) Jalan Jati or "Teak Road" is a visual art, science and ecology project tracing the historic, material and poetic journeys of a 1950’s teak bed, found in a Singapore karang guni junk store, back to a location in Southeast Asia where the original teak tree may have grown. Jalan Jati brings together cross-cultural natural histories, micro and macro arboreal influences and DNA timber tracking technology. The project carries a message about deforestation and the importance of consuming certified timber. The exhibition media comprises photography, woodprint collage and stop-motion animation.

The project is the latest evolution of a material-led investigation that started in 2009. The objective of the initiative was to recast the form and content of the historic 1950s to 1960s Singapore/Malayan Modern Woodcut Movement in a contemporary context of, "cutting of wood," or rainforest destruction.

Jalan Jati is situated in a macro-scale, global context of deforestation and illegal logging. The resulting works, publications and educational materials contain messages targeted at developed countries and their consumers, informing these parties of the importance of knowing where products come from and of purchasing legally certified timber.

The artistic approach to this project is on a micro-level—intimate and poetic. Jalan Jati is about multiple arborealities. It is about tracing and communicating an ecology of many-layered, contradictory, competing, aerial and subterranean networks of stories about trees, about people and their relationship to trees and to wood; of what happens when fingerprints meet wood-grain; of how plants, trees and forest materials have "used people" to migrate across continents; and of how these stories and plants have taken root in foreign soils. The project is on a micro-level communicating what one might call an "agency" of nature; it conveys what nature does to us—what trees and forest materials inspire us to do as much as what we do to nature.

This inquiry into "woodcut" and "cutting of wood" led to an investigation of artist’s materials—in this case of the wood blocks used by artists in Singapore, which are largely comprised of jelutong, a timber used extensively in pencils and art supplies and associated with deforestation. A search for more sustainable materials for a 21st century woodcut project led to an investigation into the stories of timber objects that migrate to Singapore.

The first exhibition of works from this inquiry was Together Again (Wood:Cut) I NATURAL HISTORY, which was exhibited at Post Museum Singapore in 2009. The exhibition attempted to recreate, in "humpty dumpty style," the original trees from "natural history prints" of wood objects found on the streets of Little India, Singapore.

A second exhibition, Together Again (Wood:Cut) II MAGIC exhibited at The Substation in Singapore 2010, conjured magic-realist histories of Southeast Asian forests from the grain of one particular teak bed (the same bed we have DNA tested for Jalan Jati). Research for these exhibitions grew into an Artist-in-Residency agreement between the artist, Lucy Davis, and Double Helix Tracking Technologies Pte Ltd.

As the genealogy of Jalan Jati is led by material and art-historical interests (i.e. an interest in and reverence for the Malayan modern woodcut), it subsequently privileges an organic, "wooden" aesthetic, which contrasts with the "clean" or "ethereal" aesthetic of new media or art-science initiatives. This aesthetic is also in keeping with our objective: a conceptual and material recasting of the histories and sensual knowledge at stake in woodcut and woodprints in a contest of deforestation and the illegal timber trade.

Contributor’s biography

Lucy Davis (PI Jalan Jati) is founder of the MIGRANT ECOLOGIES PROJECT. She is a visual artist, art writer and Assistant Professor at the School of Art Design and Media (ADM), Nanyang Technological University Singapore. 
Shannon Lee Castleman (Co-PI Jalan Jati)  is an Assistant Professor of Photography and Digital Imaging, at School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University.  For more information visit: www.migrantecologies.org.

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