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Crafting Wilderness

Crafting Wilderness

Nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other. The relationships for forming wholes from parts, including those of polarity and hierarchical domination, are at issue in the cyborg world. Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden; that is, through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate, through its completion in a finished whole, a city and cosmos. The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the Oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust. Perhaps that is why I want to see if cyborgs can subvert
the apocalypse of returning to nuclear dust in the manic compulsion to name the Enemy.
Cyborgs are not reverent; they do not remember the cosmos.[1]

Palm trees, the horizon line, skyscrapers, and street scenes – an island, heart shaped. All around is a flatland, all the denivelations have been leveled out, the tropic vegetation tamed; every blade of grass is in its right place. This is a city without insects, while nature can be found only in gardens: sometimes it’s a Mediterranean garden in a glasshouse and sometimes a tropical forest made into a garden. It is an island, a country, a city and a corporation. Islands have always been laboratories for building new societies and for preserving old ones. In its own way, they are disconnected from the continent, and impose another temporality that questions and practices contemporaneity. Parallel, it is also a Smart City, which is constantly growing; it is getting bigger and better and more efficient. The entire coastline is in fact a designed port that functions as a tactile zone, which is connected to the global network through ships and airplanes.

It is Singapore. The famous Garden City.

It is the synthesis of the wild and the cultivated, the natural and the technological, jungle and city—unruly subject and authoritarian nomos. Singapore is the “Garden City,”[2]

But, one has to give it credit: no city is able to master the nature so efficiently, decadently, almost fighting the second law of thermodynamics. And, as a consequence, this exuberant natural-artificial-garden city asks what is nature anyways? How extendable, narrative loaded and historical is this concept?

Garden, according to Foucault is one of the heterotopic spaces where the whole world comes to accomplish its symbolic perfection. The garden provides an image of the world, a space of simulation for paradise-like conditions, a place of otherness where dreams are realized in an expression of a better world. Therefore, garden itself is part of this territorial structure and at the same time his reflection. It is a part of an inseparable whole of the city and country that is subject to a total order that is reasonable and beautiful. The garden represents the victory of culture over nature, the dominion of mind over emotion. Is Singapore’s branding as a Garden City actually a manicured heterotopia? Groomed nature in Singapore, a staple of the city, one should be aware of, is not a self-generating ecosystem, but it rather completely depends on human mediation.

When between 1854 and 1869, the British explorer and naturalist Alfred Wallace went into an colonial excursion, he observed that the soil and climate were both very favorable, beyond any other he visited in the East. In his journals he writes about ‘most luxuriant’ vegetation, gambier plantations and forests with 700 species of beetles and surrounded with free roaming tigers.

The story about tigers is an interesting one. To the people of Southeast Asia, tigers embodied the power of nature, which was enigmatic. The forest was a space outside civilization and beyond human control. In the medieval system of belief, the forest was the main sanctuary of everything that is considered forbidden and paranormal. The divide is clear – on one side is the dark mysterious forest and on the other, pure, visible, innocent meadow. In this sense, tigers were guardians and messengers from the forest, passing between nature and culture, a boundary that was allowed for healers, priests, sorceress, being able to transform into tigers. Interestingly enough, the mention of tigers, mythical animals, did not take some significant roots in Singapore. Instead, they opted for lions, which obviously never set their feet there. Tiger was only retained as a beer brand and a low-budget airline company.

Some times later, the mythical unicornessque creature will be born – the Merlion, half fish, half lion. The symbol of modern Singapore. The artificial product of naturalization. But who is to say what is more natural, than others?
During the XIX century, the settlement transformed into an urban place – a city. This was marked with intensive agriculture, the building of roads, railways and buildings led to the cutting down of jungles, drying of swamps and disappearance of coastal mangrove forests. Urbanization and industrialization was intensive in XX century, and Bedok, East Coast and Jurong on the outskirts, went into a complete transformation of the physical setting, which was the most evident in the scraping off hills and forming the coastline. Not more or less, but 25% of land area has been added, flirting with the new artificial interface between land and sea.

The nature in Singapore has always served as the consequence of urban development. The shift from a dense jungle to an equally dense urban environment holds a paradox: destruction of nature, and emerging green policies of the city. The institutions in Singapore have promoted parks and greenery with human-centered, utilitarian and economic function. Nature was paired with other urban functions, such as land reservation and military zones.

There is an interesting sense of uncanny embedded in Singapore nature story – the subordination of “primitive nature” to the purposes and projects of colonialism. Still, one can sense it in Pulau Ubin, the favorite local leisure site, an island just half an hour boat drive distanced from Singapore mainland. But it feels like years behind. Plastic chairs, no air-conditioning, the level of cleanliness is inauspicious. But is it accidentally?  Is it really authentic? The “taming” of “primitive nature” hence took different fashion: nature is exploited for legal purposes. Somewhere is preserved through selected territory in order for its complexity can be observed and studied as an anomaly. Pulau Ubin serves as a constant historical reminder. Look, here it is how it was before, and how it could have been if we didn’t endeavor what he did. One must trust us. Pulau Ubin is hot, moist, full of (dengue) mosquitoes, wild boars, and raging monkeys. Unpleasant.

That’s why we made Singapore. Nature, at your service.

‘Nature’ — understood here, as the unbounded arena of science — is all there is. And so, in tearing down melancholy and illusion; the unambitious and the non-scaleable; the libidinized puritanism of certain online cultures, and Nature as an un-remakeable given, we find that our normative anti-naturalism has pushed us towards an unflinching ontological naturalism. There is nothing, we claim, that cannot be studied scientifically and manipulated technologically.

The research goal of Crafting Wilderness has been to explore nature as interplay of culture, as a means of society identification and to provide arguments for nature as a discursive form. The project emphasizes on the dimensions of nature as opposite of culture, but also it explores the opportunities for artificial to be part of the nature. It tries to demonstrate Singapore as a case study in a question of human nature and ponder breaks in normalcy. This project tries to expose and uncover the raw, messy, intimate multiple natures and cultures of the perceived world.

Instead of the search for the authentic, maybe we should observe Singapore as a cyborg from the beginning of the story.


  1. Mapping Asia: ISSUE 03. “The Critical Dictionary for Southeast Asia: W for Weretiger”, Robert Wessing, Ho Tzu Nyen. Asia Art Archive, 2013
  2. “Social Construction of Nature in Urban Singapore”, Lily Kong, Brenda S.A. Yeoh. NUS, 1996
  1. “Paramilitary gardening. Landscape and authoritarianism”, Joshua Comaroff and Ong Ker-Shing. Lekker, 2008
  1. “A Cyborg Manifesto”, Donna Haraway. Routlege, 1991
  1. “Architecture of the Territory”, Milica Topalovic, Hans Hortig, Stefanie Krautzig. ETH, 2014


[1] A Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway

[2] “Paramilitary gardening. Landscape and authoritarianism”, Joshua Comaroff and Ong Ker-Shing

[3] Laboria Cubonix, Xenofeminism, A Politics of Alienantion, 2015.

PUBLISHED IN: Happy Tropics Vol.1, ZHdK, 2016

Photo: Panagiotis Kotsidas (

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