An Afternoon of Flower Gazing at the Glass Rotunda
Bras Basah Bugis
A calming space in which keeping quiet is customary, museums have always been my haven for tranquility and respite.
Located smack in the city centre, the National Museum of Singapore seemed to pose a convenient escape from the hustle and bustle. While I’ve been to the museum a couple of times, I’d never really heard of its famed Glass Rotunda, until its reopening made the news
Back after a two-year refurbishment with an intriguing new and permanent exhibit called Story of the Forest, the display intrigued me with its promises of an interactive digital art installation adapted from the museum’s prized William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings.
Said to be one of their toughest artwork installations, Japanese art collective teamLab had been commissioned to recreate and animate drawings from Collection, which encompasses an extensive documented visual study of Southeast Asia’s flora and fauna.
The notion of an interactive digital art installation struck me as rather abstract, and so I paid a visit to the renovated Rotunda to check out the exhibit.
Still as visually majestic as I remember it to be, the museum’s blissful quiet only magnified it’s beauty. Perhaps a perk of the weekday visit, its grounds were sparsely scattered with wandering tourists.
I stood queuing for a couple of minutes to get my admission ticket to the galleries, eagerly anticipating the sight of the improved crown jewel. After all, it was said to be part of a S$10 million museum revamp.
Making my way up to the second level where the entrance to the exhibit was, I was greeted with a written introduction to the origins of the Rotunda and the inspiration behind the Story of the Forest. First launched in 2006 as the iconic cynosure of the museum’s new extension, the Glass Rotunda was built as a modern architectural response to the museum’s existing 19th-century neo-Palladian Rotunda.
Trying to picture its 15-metre-high ceiling and 80-metre passage which was said to span from the bridge, spiral ramp and onto the base of the drum, I lifted the curtains and finally set foot into the Rotunda.
What greeted me was a galaxy of falling petals and sporadic meteor showers, as the sight of botany in a kaleidoscope of colours had me fixed in a trance. The Rotunda’s ceiling was a visual spectacle to say the least. Soaking in the serene sounds which resembled that of a lush rainforest, I stood along the bridge of the upper Rotunda for some time, observing the flowers levitate across the roof of the dome, along with a few other visitors who were also in awe of the sight.
Walking across the bridge and exiting the upper Rotunda led me to the next phase of the exhibition. Projecting a continuous sunny jungle habitat on the walls of a spiral ramp, teamLab’s wildlife adaptations from William Farquhar’s drawings came alive.
My first animated wildlife sighting was a Malayan tapir, which quickly escaped deep into the forest as I walked closer for further inspection.
I soon found that there were many other creatures that were roving in the wild, paying homage to the museum’s beginnings where its early collections focused much on natural history. In a fascinating use of technology, exotic birds could be seen spreading their wings across the sky, bears ambling through deep forests and fishes swimming in streams.
Continuing down the winding spiral ramp, I spotted a mother-and-daughter pair seemingly trying to play Pokemon GO with the walls. As it turns out, that was exactly what teamLab’s interactive installation was about. Similar to the Pokemon GO concept, visitors can download the Story of the Forest app and go on hunts to capture the different flora and fauna that call the Glass Rotunda home. Capturing them through the phone’s camera function, visitors get to learn about the illustrations from the William Farquhar collection.
While probably most fun for kids, capturing the moving creatures however wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. After a few tries, here’s how I added a baby deer to my collection.
As I was nearing the end of the ramp, the bright tropical scene turned darker and more mysterious. In a re-creation of what I assumed to be a glowing forest at nightfall, animals could be seen coming alive. A sun bear was licking its paw, sitting about luminous flora and fauna, and so was a deer dancing about floating petals. The most enchanting scene yet from the exhibit.
At the base of the drum, the Rotunda’s magic only became more endearing. As though I had stepped into an enchanted forest, the walls of the drum saw glowing trees which blossomed from the ground. I was surrounded by people lying on beanbags, staring up at a vivid array of hovering flowers on the ceiling as if they were out in the open, stargazing.
A larger-than-life installation aptly surrounded by the natural foliage of the historically significant Fort Canning, flower gazing – as perhaps it can be called – at the museum could well become a regular activity for some. Adorned with such dazzling state-of-the-art visuals that lives up to the famed Glass Rotunda, I can now see why the Story of the Forest is teamLab’s most challenging installation to date.
The Story of the Forest exhibition is located in the Glass Rotunda, on Level 2 of the National Museum of Singapore. Opened daily from 10am – 7pm, admission is free for Singaporeans and PRs.
Author: Bras Basah Bugis
17 May 2017