“The artistic capability of reinforced concrete is so fantastic — that is the way to go.” — Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012), Brazilian modernist architect
The concept of Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri was conceived during Syed Fakaruddin’s six-month residency at Rimbun Dahan in Kuang, Selangor, from September 2020 until March 2021. The vibrant colour palette that dominated his preceding series of paintings, titled Tindih — displayed in a major solo exhibition that concluded his residency held at Rimbun Dahan’s underground gallery in April 2021 — is a striking contrast to his latest interpretation of nature.
For Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri, Syed has constructed a site-specific art installation from scratch to replicate the blossoming and thriving horticulture industry that is dotted along the busy main highway of Jalan Sungai Buloh-Subang. A destination for people with green fingers, landscapers and urban planners due to the array of new flower varieties and competitive prices, the nurseries piqued Syed’s curiosity while travelling to and from Kuang.
Sungai Buloh as the green belt for the horticulture industry, known as the Selangor Green Lane, has been established for decades. This significant agricultural legacy was developed as one of the core economic activities that shaped the identity of the historic Sungai Buloh Leprosarium.
In this work, Syed aims to explore the stark contrast between the lush greenery of the nurseries sprawling along the Green Lane and the rapid urban development in the vicinity, particularly the construction of the Damansara-Shah Alam Elevated Expressway (DASH), a mega infrastructure development to complete the Klang Valley ring of highways.
“I was drawn to an area specifically in Sungai Buloh, where a great number of on-going construction sites and nursery plantations can be seen when one passes through.
“Based on my observation, I see a good marriage between the two to convey my message in visualising a dystopia that could or could not take place in the near future. Either way, Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri is just a playful prediction of a new environment,” said Syed.
Located at Syed’s Studio Sarang Batu, on the second floor of a commercial unit at Dataran Ara Damansara in Selangor, Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri occupies approximately 1,320 sq ft (122 sq m) of space, transformed into a “brutalist concrete nursery” as the abbreviation in the title implies.
Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri marks the first edition of Syed’s full-scale bespoke installation that features abstract plant sculptures; display units and finishing; composed of concrete, metal, wire, steel and rocks. The flooring is decorated with landscaping rocks that surround the concrete slabs that act as a walkway.
As visitors enter the space, they are greeted by a towering six-foot by four-foot (1.8m by 1.2m) concrete sign that reads “BRU-KON-01 NURSERI” propped against the wall, that also functions as a backdrop for photo ops. The welcome area is demarcated by an existing sliding door that opens to an intimate space where a pair of customised steel benches are purposefully positioned on each side of the wall, acting as a social space for respite.
The raw nursery is presented in a steel cage that resembles an ultramodern hothouse with agricultural technology, except that Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri does not cultivate real flowers and vegetables using hydroponic or a vertical farming system, but instead serves as a memorial based on Syed’s predicted environment of the future — much like the purpose of displaying taxidermy in a museum.
Among the selection of 20 plant sculptures displayed in Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri are Pasak; Terompet Malaikat; Lelabah; Tetulang; Janda Bolong; Sambau; Kabong; Renek; Lidah Jin; Meranti; Rhu; Sungkai; Mata Lembu; Gerutu Pasir; Tunggul; Bangun-bangun; Akar Beluru; Tualang; Tapak Hantu; and Mawar.
The abstract plant sculptures accentuate each plant’s elemental design. For example, Lidah Jin, or Snake Plant (Dracaena trifasciata), is composed of a concrete base and its sword-like stiff leaves are represented by flat steel bars.
Similarly, the Lelabah, or Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum), has deformed steel bars bent and twisted to replicate the evergreen perennial flowering plant.
Tapak hantu, or Ghost’s Foot (Trevesia burckii), features the downward-growing inflorescence moulded in uniform pods of concrete with curved thick metal wire.
The vernacular names are embossed on small metal sheets alongside the retail price attached to each sculpture. The metal sheet labels emulate military dog tags that serve as a form of identification.
Syed carefully selected the unique plant species, named in Malay, as a way to preserve them in the form of relics. The idea of romanticising these plants as artefacts when greenery ceases to exist in the future world because of today’s environmental threats and irreversible ecological damage may offer comfort to the fictitious dystopian society.
The plant sculptures are available for sale in Syed’s invented currency called the “Xcoin”. Its currency exchange rate is equivalent to RM15 per one Xcoin, or as low and/or as high as Syed determines it to be. Terompet Malaikat is priced at Xcoin 15 (RM225) while Tunggul is valued at Xcoin 10 (RM150).
Appropriating cryptocurrency and the non-fungible token (NFT) culture, Syed’s Xcoin is self-regulated and presents itself as a tongue-in-cheek comment on the current realities of fintech and digital assets.
A well-made steel structure displaying an eclectic assortment of “gardening apparatus and accessories” such as metal chains, wire coils, steel rods and miniature gabion sacks are neatly arranged near the entrance.
As visitors peruse the display shelves to “shop” for plant and gardening sculptures, their senses are intensified by the sound of a construction site — drilling, hammering, sawing and welding — played on a loop in the background as well as the warm temperature of the room. The feeling of discomfort gradually increases as visitors circling the concrete nursery eventually break out in a sweat — an experience deliberately designed by Syed to further emphasise nature’s dangerous decline. The steel cage formation also gives the impression of being confined in an enclosure.
The immersive experience defies any definitive description of Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri, except that it conveys a vital message in a thought-provoking manner. Visitors leave the space with a new perspective on the environment and at the same time feel remorseful and culpable for not caring enough for the earth.
Bakat Muda Sezaman 2021
Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri is a site-specific art installation by Syed in response to the Bakat Muda Sezaman (BMS) (Young Contemporaries) 2021 competition’s theme “Seni di Lokasi” (Art on Site). Organised by Balai Seni Negara Malaysia for young Malaysian artists below the age of 35, BMS 21 invites artists to undertake the challenges of “art making in the new norm”; and “creating physical works in any suitable local site located anywhere in Malaysia” or “on-site at the National Art Gallery and its surroundings”.
Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri is Syed’s second submission for BMS. He was a finalist in BMS 2019 with his frosted mirror installation titled Dari Mata, Turun ke Hati.
Through Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri, Syed has cemented his role as a brilliant multi-disciplinary artist who continues to push the limitless boundaries of art-making through the innovative use of form and material.
The public is welcome to visit Bru-Kon-01 Nurseri by appointment at Sarang Batu Studio, Ara Damansara until March this year. For more information visit Syed Fakaruddin’s Instagram account @brukon01.nurseri .
Sarah Abu Bakar
4 January 2022