The world in 2200
Some skip school to protest climate change, others disavow disposable packaging, still others invest in metal drinking straws.
For artist Tan Zi Xi, 34, her preferred way of raising environmental awareness and spurring others to action is through art. The message of what she paints might be grim, yet it looks anything but.
Among her latest works is 2200 A.D., an installation along the Esplanade’s Level 3 Community Wall. It includes smaller framed drawings and a large wall mural that channels a whimsical vibe, but depicts a dystopic future, one where animals are mutated, and people live away from Earth, ravaged of natural resources.
Her sublime, imagined universe of the future, however, makes it hard to take one’s eyes away from the curious creatures and beguiling landscapes in the work. Indeed, Tan believes that because the message of her art is bleak, her work needs to charm people into pondering the possibly perverse consequences of their actions on the environment.
But she is against sugar-coating things. It is why her weird and sort-of-wonderful mural of the future continues to show worrying signs of pollution – it is dotted with clouds of smoke and plumes of fumes.
She says: “Given the condition of Earth now and how we are treating it, turning a blind eye to things, I don’t see how we’ll be able to turn things around or change.”
Nonetheless, she clings to hope – that the next generation can seed change. Her other ongoing installation at the Esplanade, Cabinet of Curiosities, seeks to get young ones thinking about the environment in the future, and how they can care for it now.
The installation, in Esplanade’s free activity area for children, PIP’s PLAYbox, on the fourth floor, is a larger-than-life series of cabinets. When children open the drawers and cupboards, they are greeted by paintings of strange and colourful animals, and the complementary activity sheets encourage parents to talk about the “mutated” animals with their children.
On her part, Tan practices what she preaches by being more conscious of what she buys, and the waste she produces; every opportunity she has, she tries to reduce consumption and waste. For example, she carries a tumbler with her everywhere and uses reusable bags. She also stores leftover paint in reusable containers instead of throwing the old, half-used tubes away, which is more convenient.
She says: “It is easy to think that there is nothing much one can do individually to save the environment, but I believe that every small effort counts.”