Pass it on
memories, secrets, and heritage: An interactive Artwork created using 8000 saga seeds
8000 saga seeds, white pigment ink, text on glass mirror, stories. 457cm x 80cm
Displacements exhibition, Singapore
This artwork is made of more than 8000 saga seeds collected during the artist's walking journeys through Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. The audience is invited to pick up a seed. Upon each seed is a unique handwritten number referencing the story behind each one, which can only be read if a viewer references the seed number in the online seed archive below.
The installation artworks with saga seeds, Pass It On, 2013, and Six Thousand Moments, 2015, are about place memories and social heritage. These secrets and stories get passed from person to person, generation to generation, by word of mouth. The research behind the saga seed works studies the nature of oral history and seeks to result in a more subjective mapping of the place we find ourselves in. Secret or untold stories of places are revealed in the deeper layers of each artwork.
The resulting installations comprise thousands of seeds (more than 8000 in Pass it on and 6000 in Six Thousand Moments), which the audience are invited to take. Read the stories behind each seed's journey below. If you were one of the visitors who picked up a saga seed from the artwork, read your own seed’s story by entering its number in the box below or tweeting your #SeedNumber: Tweet to @Nicola_Anthony.
About your seed:
The seeds were gathered from all over Singapore during 2012 to present, on many separate missions and days. Read the stories below or enter a specific seed number in the box:
Day 1 (seeds 1-2): Damp and almost Seedless
On my first day of collecting the seeds, I armed myself with mosquito spray, and prayed that the thunderous clouds would be passing soon. I cycled up and down the length of East Coast Park, tracking down the famed Saga tree, talking with the uncles there who trim the trees and keep the park in order. I met a husband and wife park-keeper couple, and we used a mixture of broken English and sign language to communicate the best locations. But, alas, the beautiful seeds evaded me, and every time I spotted what I thought was the right tree, I could not locate seeds or seed pods. However, that evening, I ventured to the top of the Marina Bay Financial Tower in the CBD, to a meeting with some of the artists I am working alongside in the Displacements exhibition. Pang, a fellow sculptor, had found 2 seeds at home, and kindly thought to bring them and contribute. And so it is that seeds 1 and 2 are in fact found via a friend, and not in a green space but at the top of a towering structure
Day 2 (seeds 3-703): A kindly passer-by, a busker and a homeless uncle
My first seed collecting mission earlier in the year had not seen much success, but I persisted. Setting out into a dryer, sunnier day, I went to a newly recommended location in central Singapore. I felt a wave of relief as I spotted a bright red dot nestled in the grass. So here was one seed, where were the rest? Crawling around in the green fronds, I attracted the attention of a passing man who knew of course what I was searching for. With palm outstretched, he offered me three seeds he had found on the pathway. Thanking him for his kindness I did not mention that he would also become a part of my artwork. Next, I was approached by an elderly uncle, in scruffy clothing. Awaking from his nap on the bench, this kind homeless man had come over to talk with me, and tell me his favourite places for finding the seeds. His advice was spot-on, and his story was wonderful and heartfelt. He told me about the areas he likes to stay in, the ones where he gets peace, and the ones that have been ruined by the noise and disruption of new building developments. On his advice, I collected 400 seeds over the next hours. Emerging from the grass, slightly more muddy but with a full bag of seeds, I got into a conversation with an elderly busker. He wanted to tell his story, and talk to me about how he grew up in Singapore. He had advice on the seeds and their uses, and an invitation to come and support him busking at Boat Quay. In fact, he had three small packages with him - saga seeds he had collected earlier from various secret locations, contained in empty tobacco packets. He was willing to sell me these for a dollar each. At first I was not sure if buying them may be untrue to my mission of seeking the seeds myself. But then I realised, the wider mission is to let the seeds guide me, to learn new things, engage in conversations with all sorts of new people and learn their stories. So by the end of the day I was in possession of a total of 700 saga seeds.
Day 3 (seeds 704-1303): 600 new seeds, and a good knowledge of ants and monitor lizards
After a few days off, I resumed my mission to seek more seeds. This particular adventure did not spark off any unlikely conversations, but it did earn some confused looks from passers-by. During the day, I observed many insects and all sorts of ants, whose particular trees I steered clear of. I provided a nice feast for the local mosquitoes, but luckily was rewarded with a horde of 600 saga seeds, and a sighting of a large monitor lizard. I have never seen one before, so to see this one slip across my path and then wiggle in the direction of the canal, was a surprise for me. My first thought was: A baby dinosaur!
Day 4 (seeds 1304-1804): Collecting 500 from HDB blocks
Weaving in and out of HDB blocks and trees at Ang Mo Kio, I managed to pick up a wealth of seeds. By this point in my journey I was starting to feel like a suspicious squirrel, and there were lots of people watching me along the roads and avenues where I was searching. Actually my face is an unusual one here - an area full of HDB blocks is not probably the usual spot to see a slightly western face scratching about in the grass. Whilst watching, some people asked me what I was doing, and others gave me directions to other areas I needed to get to. Passing by void decks, I met the local cats and aunties.
Before the Ang Mo Kio housing town came about, this area was largely covered with secondary forests, swamps and farmland, which is perhaps why there are still quite big areas of green that I could rummage in, as well as the more sculpted Ang Mo Kio Town Gardens. Interestingly, the National Heritage Board says some believe that the name Ang Mo Kio is the Hokkien term for tomatoes whilst others say that it refers to a bridge purportedly built by J T Thomson as ang mo is a Hokkien nickname for Caucasians, and kio means "bridge". Former villagers in the area, however, report that tomatoes were never planted here, and that Ang Mo Kio was not used by locals as a place name.
Day 5 (seeds 1805-1868): Finding 63 seeds with friends at Wessex
I went on an 'art walk' around the Wessex Estate - an annual event where the artists who live and work here open up their homes and studios, to invite visitors to view their work and practices. It was a beautiful day, and I unexpectedly spotted plenty of saga trees during the wander. I was with two friends who inadvertently got sucked in to the seed picking process. Every so often I would bend down and grab a few. When my friends started to spot the bright red dots too, they noted that it is almost impossible to stop: Once you locate one, your eye quickly finds the next one, which you compulsively pick up. It is like the children's dot-to-dot game, played abstractly and organically all over the Wessex Estate - and for me, all over Singapore. Most days I am counting as I pick up the seeds, spurring myself on to get to the next hundred. Today was more haphazard, and when I got home, I counted 63 seeds tucked inside my purse.
Day 6 (seeds 1869-1894): 25 seeds gathered by a friend
Today 25 seeds made their way to me via the kindness of another friend. They arrived red and shiny, having been collected on the west side of Singapore. How nice that now people are spotting these seeds and thinking of me. It's just enough to cover a few inches, but it helps the sculpture move forward.
Day 7 (seeds 1895-1955): Bare-foot at Singapore Botanic Gardens
Not very many seeds were collected here, but I did find a few under the heritage saga tree. In such a popular location I imagine these are very hard to come by because of being constantly picked up by visitors. But it was worth it to spend a day submerged in the greenery at the Singapore Botanic Garden. Unlike most places in Singapore, you can truly get away from roads and buildings, with green on all sides. It was such a sunny day that I had to seek out the dappled shade under the trees. I actually took pleasure in taking my shoes off to walk bare foot across the big grass area in the centre, feeling the sunshine on my feet and the grass under my toes. At the gardens, I spotted a photography exhibition near the visitors centre, and had an interesting discussion with a few photographers who were viewing the artworks also. I told them about the seed mission, and they gave me some advice on more saga seed spots.
Day 8 (seeds 1956-2003): A walk over the Henderson Waves
This was my first visit to the 4 metre-long pedestrian bridge that spans Henderson Road to connect Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park. At Telok Blangah, we took the 'treetop walk' but became increasingly keen to set foot on a dirt path or woodland walkway, as opposed to the metal constructs that lead you through this park, hovering high above the ground. Crossing over to Mount Faber, our shoes finally touched earth, making us feel endlessly more connected to nature. It was here that I was able to lay my hands on some of the shiny red things I was seeking. Finally, we emerged at Harbourfront, and were instantly transported back from the smells of nature and the simple dirt path, to a world of shopping mall constructs and shiny new restaurants along the riverfront. It was peaceful gazing over towards Sentosa with a refreshing drink in hand, but the contrast was very noticeable. Even though I have always been a city person and I love the architecture in Singapore, this seed collecting mission is making me long for a true green space to get lost in.
Day 9 (seeds 2004-2853): 850 seeds at a cathedral
Of all the places I collected this was not the most rural, but it was the most tranquil and full of intrigued, friendly faces. Some strangers bent down to help me gather a few red treasures. Others told me about their own childhood collections. Interestingly no one knows where their own collections went to - are they still in a box somewhere? Given away? Lost?
Day 10 (seeds 2854 - 3301): Watery West Coast Park
As with Singapore's East Coast, the West Coast was also created out of reclaimed land in the 1970s. Today the area was very quiet after a large downpour of rain in the morning, and so my walk was muddy but tranquil. This sea fronted park also has a lake, and the overwhelming theme of my seed harvesting was water and the beautiful reflections of the sky in the puddles, lakes and waves. The seeds themselves were either gleaming and rain-washed, or pushed down into the soft mud that had earlier been kneaded like dough by the downpour. I rinsed the seeds in lake water before heading back to my studio.
Day 11 (seeds 3302-3405): 104 seeds in a tennis sock
In a condo block in Singapore, there is a tennis court overlooked by a vast saga tree. Naturally, a friend who played tennis here told me about this, and we decided to gather these gem-like red ovules whilst hitting a ball. I have to say that the only place to gather them whilst on court was in a tennis shoe, but I will also emphasize that I washed these seeds, (as I did the others), very thoroughly. Within this small accumulation of saga seeds, there was an exciting find - I gathered lucky seed number 3250, a truly heart shaped Saga seed.
Day 12 (seeds 3406 - 3447): A handful of seeds by a road
During a walk with a friend along the East Coast Road, I suddenly spotted some tempting red dots on the floor. I stopped to pick up a few, but as an artist you sometimes have to remember that not everyone wants to spend their day getting distracted by shiny things, small red seeds, found objects, interesting scraps of paper, or exciting hardware stores.... So I decided not to disrupt our day too much with my saga mission - I would return.
Day 13 (seed 3448): 1 seed in the darkness
Yesterday I was out for a walk with a friend, along the East Coast Road. Here, with my new finely-tuned eyes, I spotted the familiar leaf shapes of a saga tree. However, trying not to act too much 'like an artist', I had limited myself to collecting just a handful from the pavement rather than delaying our plans. So today I returned.
Unfortunately, by time I made it there by bike, it was getting dark. I couldn't see much and I was conscious of being watched suspiciously by the security guards outside a nearby shop and car park. Yet - my eye did catch upon one, glistening red seed. The journey was not wasted!
Day 14 (seeds 3449-4202): waterways and HDBs
Walking along Hougang Avenue, I could see a few saga trees, but no seeds. It was only by venturing away from the path, along the waterways or in between HDB blocks that I stumbled across an abundance of these red treasures. Hougang is another residential area consisting of many HDBs, and is part of Singapore's Heartlands. I was also told that The last kampong (village) in Singapore can be found in Hougang. I did not get to see it during this trip, but it is located near Buangkok, and is named Kampong Buangkok. Apparently there has been very little development in the kampong; for example, the village's electricity is still provided for through the use of generators rather than power plants. This sounds like an interesting glimpse into the past, and I resolved to visit and get a feel for Singapore of old.
Day 15 (seeds 4203-5019): Fort Canning Prk
I knew there were many seeds at Fort Canning as I had been advised as such by several people I have met on my journey. But the park is big, and I was unsure if I would spot them easily. As soon as I ascended the wooden flight of stairs to the top of Fort Canning Hill, I caught sight of two park keepers in orange garb, wielding sticks and rakes. I pulled out Seed number 4203 which I had found, solitary, on the way to the park. I showed them the red gem in my palm and asked where I may find more. Both park keepers pointed in opposite directions and after a loud conversation between them in Bengali, they decided the better location, and led me there. Behold, a very seed-laden tree, encircled by a path and rain drains also dotted with scarlet globes.
The two men wanted to know where I was from and what I did, in return they told me they had come to singapore from Bangladesh, and been here three years. They were very knowledgable about the locations of trees, and very kindly helped me gather the first 150 seeds, before heading off. Later on I was wandering the park looking for more seeds, and they spotted me again and directed me to another tree whose seeds had fallen into the bushes beneath.
Day 16 (seeds 5020-5556): National Museum of Art
Wandering along the site where the new Museum of Art is being built, I spotted some saga seeds lying on the pavement. It seemed very fitting to me that these trees which may be affected (or even removed) through the addition of such a large art institution in Singapore, could forever be immortalised in an artwork if I collected their seeds. Whilst I picked up these spots of red inspiration, I strolled towards St Andrew's Cathedral again. Here I had a wonderful talk with a grounds keeper who works there. He told me that he used to see many people in the area collecting seeds, but not so many any more. He used to pick them up himself, and one day he gave the lot to a couple he saw looking for the red spheres. He also reminded me that they are called 'love seeds' by locals. Later on, as if to underline his words, I spotted another heart-shaped seed.
Day 17 (seeds 5557-6442): Fort Canning, Spice Garden
Collecting near the Spice Garden, I stumbled across a beautiful shrine. I saw a Malay man and woman there so I did not encroach on their space. But the man saw me, and beckoned me over. "Many seeds there..." he said while directing me to the side of the area. I thanked him and we got into conversation - he has been here forever he said, from before the Chinese and other cultures arrived, when Malay people were mining at locations like Bukit Timah (which in Malay means "tin hill"). He likes Singapore but says it has changed - it is so much more expensive to live here now, with Kopi (coffee) costing a lot he said, even though you might still get it for 1 dollar at a Hawker Centre or 2 dollars at a Kopitam (the word for traditional coffee shops in Singapore). He told me that the shrine is a place where many Malays come to make wishes, and he noticed the lemony smell hanging around me like a mist. (It was my mosquito repellant ). He said the smell is similar to an oil used by the Malays to warm up the skin when you feel cold.
After he had left, I sat in under the roof and looked at the shrine, feeling peaceful and happy with a bag full of seeds. As I rummaged through today's harvest, I spotted a conjoined double seed, which I have never seen before. It was impossible to split these twins apart, so I decided to label them numbers 5853a and 5853b.
Day 18 (seeds 6443-6496): Chickens and Bicycles
I accidentally stumbled across some seeds today, while heading from my studio towards the artist studios on Telok Kurau. I have had the pleasure during this year, of witnessing the families of chickens who live on the side of the road here. They have been growing up fast over the last few months. I spotted the hens first, then the absolutely tiny fluffy chicks who got blown back in the gust of every car that sped past. Today it was wonderful to spot the chicks almost fully grown, and the roosters guarding the whole brood.
Day 19 (seeds 6497-7178): National Museum of Singapore
On my way to the National Museum today, my taxi driver uncle and I got talking about Pass It On. I spoke about the seeds being edible after cooked, but poisonous prior to boiling. He told me that when he was young, he played many games with the seeds. He whiled away hours playing the Malay 5 beans game, and his father told him not to eat them because it makes you dumb.
At the museum, perhaps because I had the seeds in my mind again, I spotted the familiar bright green leaves of a Saga tree. After exploring, I found several hundred scarlet gems hiding away in the long grass.
Day 20 (seeds 7179-7208): Bukit Brown
I found some saga seeds at Bukit Brown Cemetery - a very unique and wonderful place in Singapore full of history; heavy with the past, nature and heritage. The densely green 23 hectare Chinese cemetery is home to 100,000 graves dating back to the 1800's. It is such a shame that it is being paved over soon.
I was visiting with some friends, in the pouring rain, but it only made the experience more atmospheric. Having glimpsed some familiar red dots, I showed my friends what I was searching for and explained the sculpture they would become part of. Immediately everyone set about searching for me, kindly gathering handfuls each, and becoming an invaluable part of this artwork and its story. Once more the seeds have connected with people. It is clear that the saga seeds themselves are powerful little points of gravity and connection - they are leading this journey, not me.
Bukit Brown was actually closed in the 1970s, but is still a resting place for the departed, as well as a beautiful and tranquil site in which to view some tangled, wild nature. While there we observed a nesting bird, guarding 3 eggs containing nascent offspring, perched between the graves.
This peace will soon be interrupted however, as an eight-lane highway is due to be laid across Bukit Brown, resulting in about 4000 graves being exhumed so far, and a massive backlash and protest from families and nature lovers calling out to get World Heritage Site status for Bukit Brown. The history and culture present in the little carvings, writings, symbols and messages embedded into the tombstones and art nouveau tiles, is deep and inspiring.
Day 21 (seeds 7209-7551): Heartlands - Seeds on film
I collected this batch from the Heartlands in the north of Singapore, before heading to the house at 13 Wilkie Terrace where the installation of the sculpture has begun. Today I was being filmed by a camera crew, who wanted to get to know the 'behind the scenes' and making processes of my work. The numbering of seeds 7501 to 7522 was captured on film, and will air on Singaporean tv channel OKto soon. It was an eventful day for these seeds, but a memorable image flashed through my mind as I thought back to the patch where I discovered the saga tree - that of a lizard flashing across my path, and pausing just long enough for me to get it on film too.
Day 22 (seeds 7552-7898): One-North - hearts and storm drains
While out near One-North MRT station, I found many Saga trees. They were mainly young ones with no seeds, but eventually I stumbled upon a tall, wise old tree. Here, I was privileged to find heart-shaped number 7707. This day of collecting turned me into a half squirrel-like, half bird-like creature, hopping around, pecking the grass with my fingers, and turning my head this way and that as my eyes landed upon seed after seed. It is a mannerism I have become accustomed to, and has developed throughout this epic mission. It seems that as soon as you crouch down to grass level, the red circles seem to reveal themselves - tucked behind a blade of grass or lounging under a leaf. The angle of viewing and the proximity to the ground are key to finding them.
As I traversed the area, I noticed that the storm drains were full of seeds, washed clean in the rain water and huddled together in little groups. By now I am used to doing slightly strange things in order to pursue the saga, and so I hopped into the concrete channel and gathered a long line of seeds.
Day 23 (seeds 7899-8939): Sembawang Park
As a final seed collecting mission – at least before the opening of Displacements where the seeds will be unveiled on 1st June, I decided to go to the northernmost point of Singapore, Sembawang. I had heard about abundant seeds littering its streets, but not managed to travel the two hour distance until this point. This area sits much further away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of our city-state. Perhaps I was just more alert to Mother Nature, or perhaps it is more of a safe haven for wildlife, but I certainly spotted a lot of it. Sembawang also has one of the country's last natural beaches, so I was able to enjoy the sun glittering over the sea.
On my journey through the area, I met a friendly bus driver uncle who noticed immediately that I was going the wrong way on the bus route, and kindly let me sit on the bus for the remainder of the Sembawang loop before we got to the point I should have got on. He had some tips about roads lined with Saga trees, and I thanked him for his kindness.
The day was full of friendly visitors and creatures: I watched a squadron of ants transporting a bright red seed back to their nest. Positioned as they were around the circumference of the seed, they looked like they were doing a rather civilised circular dance - bobbing and bowing, spinning and circling. I wondered if the ants would use or eat the seed, or perhaps if they just liked it's vibrancy. I later found out that the process of seed dispersal by ants has a special name, myrmecochory. This kind of dispersal means that the seed is taken away from the shadows of it's mother-tree, and burried in a dark cosy spot underground, away from hazards and in a perfect spot for sprouting.
I later spotted a Collared Kingfisher, which was a wonderful sight - this beautiful bird is sometimes found near coastal areas, and shimmers with a turquoise hue that could never be captured in paint. Later on, I noticed a yellow bird, possibly a Black-naped Oriole, perched on a branch above my head and calling loudly but melodiously. I realised that as I continued my journey of rooting amongst the leaves, the bird moved with me, always sitting above me and singing. Of course - this must have been a warning call, telling me to leave its territory or warning other birds of my presence. What a tuneful warning though!
After gathering over 1000 seeds to complete the sculpture's growing line of red, I headed back to the Displacements exhibition space at Wilkie Terrace. Here, I met my final amiable animal of the day: Felix, the tiny stray kitten who has moved into the exhibition space. Felix was intrigued by the seeds, and played with them relentlessly (until stumbling across an even more exciting piece of string). As I let the final seeds skitter across the floor to find their place in the curve of seeds spanning across my exhibition space, it seemed fitting that Felix should be the last point on the journey before the sculpture is complete. In a way, this old house at Wilkie Terrace is also a stray - having been set loose by it's previous owners, but still boisterous and willing to play its part in this game of art we have constructed within it.
Day 24 (seeds 8940-9454): A New Mission
Not being able to resist the red peeping out at me through the blades of grass in the East Coast of Singapore today (2014), I resumed my collection of Saga seeds over a picnic with friends. I of course had many helpers and a lot of eager fingers searched and discovered the little red gems for an hour or more while we talked
Day 25 (seeds 9455-9884): Another seed collection, 2014
A whole swathe of seeds was uncovered in Yishun, Singapore, 2014. I was there working on a new artwork and as I noticed the perfect seed spotting location, I made a promise to myself to come by later on. When I returned I managed to find a few hundred seeds.
Day 26 (seeds 9885-9920): My first 2015 Seeds
Today I was at Little Artist's Studio where I am working with the teachers to show the children how a public artwork is created. We exited the studio to a walkway tucked around the corner, to begin spray painting in an open space. On the floor, we spotted the red seeds hiding underneath leaves and branches.
Day 27 (seeds 9921-10,220): Returning for the catch
With the re-ignited desire to create another big saga seed artwork, I set off to the previously spotted space near the art studio, to collect quite a few seeds today. Although it comes at a very busy time, the act of collecting and gathering seems so calming and relaxing, and really rather satisfying to return home with a large catch.