Inside the Rotunda

The National Museum of Singapore’s opening the doors of its famed Glass Rotunda after two years of renovation.

For two years a section of the National Museum had been out-of-bounds. The iconic Glass Rotunda by the rear of the museum had plans to be a space where artists could create 360-degree installations. The museum’s 130th birthday fast approaches, and what better way to prepare for it than finally opening its doors with a special exhibition.

Japanese art collective teamLab, the group responsible for ArtScience Museum’s first permanent exhibition Future World, has returned to deliver Story of the Forest – an interactive art installation featuring flowers, plants and animals native to Singapore. Based off of the watercolour botanical drawings of the William Farquhar Collection – a series of images commissioned back in the late 18th Century to chronicle the plants and animals of Malacca and Singapore – the exhibition brings together historical documents with new technology.

The darkened entrance leads to a sky bridge with night-time projections of flowers and stars covering the curved walls. Onward is a long spiral pathway along the edge of the rotunda called the Passage – a projected stretch of digital Singaporean forestry, which changes depending on the time of day you visit. For those with a smartphone handy, downloading the Story of the Forest app is a neat little extra. Any of the nearby animals running across the 170 metre-long projection will appear on the screen, and can be captured with your phone’s camera – then the animal’s information pops up.

At the end of the spiral pathway is the inside of the rotunda – with the roof 15 metres high. This is where the projection comes together in a serene night-time spectacle. Much like the projections of Future World, standing still near the walls long enough will attract animals towards you – make any sudden moves, and you might startle them. All the projections are created in real-time, meaning what you see will always be different.

At the bottom of the rotunda is a photography exhibit created by local artist Robert Zhao. His series, titled Singapore, Very Old Tree, is a reference to an old postcard he found in Singapore’s National Archives dating back to 1904 – on it is a photograph of a man stands next to an incredibly tall tree, emphasising its height. The exhibition is part of an exploration between the nation’s identity as a Garden City, and the personal relationships between people and trees. Showing 17 of the 30 images Zhao created, the exhibition goes into detail of the stories discovered behind each tree. Most of the trees were found by Zhao and his team, and talking to historians and locals who had stories behind them.

One particular story comes from Madam Quek, who is the self-appointed caretaker of the Monkey God Tree at Jurong West Street 42. The tree was named as such after a car that scraped the bark of the tree in the accident back in 2007 revealed an outline of two monkeys. This led to the belief the tree was a manifestation of the Taoist Monkey God, or the Hanuman in Hinduism – leading to a lot of praying, and reportedly lottery wins using the numbers from the licence plate that hit the tree.

Admission to the National Museum of Singapore is $15 for adults and $10 for students. Singapore citizens, PRs and children aged 6 and below enter for free.