'Quadra Medicinale Singapore' by Jef Geys at NTU CCA

The late Belgian artist's first institutional exhibition in Asia
By Ian Tee

Jef Geys, 'Quadra Medicinale Singapore', Singapore chapter installation view. Image courtesy of NTU CCA Singapore.

Jef Geys, 'Quadra Medicinale Singapore', Singapore chapter installation view. Image courtesy of NTU CCA Singapore.

Since its inauguration in 2013, the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA Singapore) has positioned itself as a space for critical discourse and a research centre to study contemporary art ecosystems in Singapore and the region. Recent initiatives by the institution include its Digital Resource Platform which holds a selection of materials from Singapore's Independent Archive (IA) established by the Singaporean artist Lee Wen. "The question of archiving is particular to this region as a lot of archives don't have the resources," says Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director of NTU CCA Singapore. "What we try to bring forth as an institution is the necessity of research time and access to these materials."

NTU CCA Singapore also features leading artists in its exhibition and residency programmes, presenting their work for the first time in Southeast Asia. Its latest offering is 'Quadra Medicinale Singapore', the late Belgian artist Jef Geys's first institutional exhibition in Asia. The show is curated by Dirk Snauwaert, in collaboration with Bauer and Khim Ong, Deputy Director of Curatorial Programmes at NTU CCA Singapore. Geys is best known for his conceptual practice which adopted interdisciplinary and collaborative processes. This approach is rooted in his believe that art should be intertwined with the everyday, influenced by his experience working as a teacher in a regional primary school from 1960 to 1989.

Jef Geys, 'Quadra Medicinale Singapore', installation view. Image courtesy of NTU CCA Singapore.

Jef Geys, 'Quadra Medicinale Singapore', installation view. Image courtesy of NTU CCA Singapore.

'Quadra Medicinale' is structured as a universal manual that can be replicated and contextualised anywhere, where Gey invites residents to document 12 street plants or "weeds" within a demarcated quadrant. This process uncovers the productive, even medicinal, properties of these plants, thus creating a unique model for knowledge production and sharing. The work also questions organised systems of urban planning and society's relationship with nature. 

First presented at the Pavilion of Belgium during the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, this iteration includes a newly-created Singapore chapter with contributions by local collaborators Louise Neo and Teo Siyang. Its context in Singapore taps into regional practices of traditional herbal medicine and the possibilities of resourceful scavenging in the city. The site Gillman Barracks also echoes details in artist's biography such as his birthplace in the small military town of Leopoldsburg, a fact that caught Geys’s interest while he was still alive.

Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, mural for 'And in the Chapel and in the Temples', installation view. Image courtesy of NTU CCA Singapore.

Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, mural for 'And in the Chapel and in the Temples', installation view. Image courtesy of NTU CCA Singapore.

Running concurrently in The Lab is 'And in the Chapel and in the Temples', a research presentation conceived and organised by Roger Nelson. Nelson is an art historian and curator specialising in modern and contemporary art in Southeast Asia, and currently Postdoctoral Fellow at the centre and the School of Art, Design and Media, NTU Singapore. The presentation features two ongoing research projects by the Buddhist Archive of Photography and collaborating contemporary artists Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho. Taken together, both inquiries explore resonances in the histories of modern art in Southeast Asia through the lens of spirituality and the Cold War. 

'Quadra Medicinale Singapore' and 'And in the Chapel and in the Temples' are on view until 3 March 2019 and 10 February 2019 respectively.