Combining Nature and art for contemporary bonsai

Trestan Tan with his contemporary bonsai at the 'Trail' exhibition in George Town August 23, 2018. — Pictures by KE Ooi
Trestan Tan with his contemporary bonsai at the 'Trail' exhibition in George Town August 23, 2018. — Pictures by KE Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 23 — A miniature tree hangs from a cement sculpture, creating a captivating visual of green and white that is at once aesthetically pleasing and yet, calming. Very Zen.

Next to it, another miniature tree erupts from a bed of dry and green moss within the cracks of a piece of mangrove wood, again giving a Zen-like feel to the whole piece.

These are not your regular potted bonsai — a Japanese art form involving the cultivation of miniature plants to mimic life-size trees — but a combination of art and Nature, resulting in contemporary bonsai.

Artist Trestan Tan wanted to cultivate an interest for bonsai, especially among the youths.

“I wanted to make something modern and new, something different so that young people will be attracted to it,” he said when met at his cafe and bonsai studio, M'atural, along Carnavon Lane.

A showcase of contemporary bonsai at Trail: A Bonsai Exhibition at M'atural, George Town.
A showcase of contemporary bonsai at Trail: A Bonsai Exhibition at M'atural, George Town.

The cafe is the perfect place to showcase his contemporary bonsai art, all of which feature miniature trees on pieces of wood, cement sculptures, inside glass bottles and also the kokedama, an ancient bonsai art form.

Kokedama is a ball of moss-covered soil on which an ornamental plant or bonsai grows.

Tan is now showcasing his contemporary bonsai in an exhibition titled "Trail" on the first floor of his cafe.

About 30 different pieces are featured in the exhibition.

There are also a number of kokedama which Tan has made more interesting by wrapping gold thread around the moss.

Contemporary bonsai, a combination of contemporary art and bonsai.
Contemporary bonsai, a combination of contemporary art and bonsai.

“The kokedama was introduced by a bonsai artist more than 600 years ago to create something new and I wanted to introduce it here,” Tan said.

Other than the exhibition, Tan is collaborating with Tea Soul and EcoWorld to combine other art forms with contemporary bonsai.

“I want to draw attention to bonsai art and one of the ways to make it interesting is to combine it with other art forms,” he said.

This Saturday, his contemporary bonsai will be featured in a contemporary dance performance at EcoWorld Gallery along Macalister Road.

A kokedama against a windowsill at M'atural.
A kokedama against a windowsill at M'atural.

“On Sunday, we will have a tea art event at M'atural where contemporary bonsai will also be featured,” he said.

The 26-year-old has always loved plants and started learning about bonsai art by taking up an apprenticeship with Japanese Master Masashi Hirao back in 2016.

He attended an international bonsai showcase in Shanghai in 2016 and last year, held his first bonsai art exhibition along with a contemporary dance performance collaboration.

After last year's successful debut, he decided to organise another exhibition this year in conjunction with George Town Festival.

“I will have bonsai workshops on September 1 and 2 at M'atural so those interested can register for it,” he said.

Bonsai balanced on frothy white cement sculptures.
Bonsai balanced on frothy white cement sculptures.

Most of the plants used for bonsai art are usually indoor plants such as rosita, wrightria religiosa and carmosa retusa.

“I also use some outdoor plants such as rerama and ficus macrocarpa,” he said.

Even the common hibiscus plant, such as the cranberry hibiscus, can be used to create kokedama or bonsai, he said.

M'atural's name, which is derived from the words “miniature” and “natural,” is a plant-based cafe with light snacks and drinks. It also offers bonsai workshops on normal days upon early booking.

A kokedama hanging down from the ceiling.
A kokedama hanging down from the ceiling.

M'atural

72, Carnavon Lane,

George Town.

Time: 11am-7pm

Closed on Wednesdays

Tea Art and Contemporary Bonsai Demonstration

Venue: M'atural

Date: August 26, 2pm-3pm

Contemporary Dance and Bonsai Demonstration

Venue: EcoWorld Gallery, Macalister Road

Date: August 25, 5pm-6pm

Bonsai Workshops

Venue: M'atural

Date: Sept 1 & 2, 2pm-5.30pm.

A miniature tree balanced on a bed on dried moss on a piece of wood.
A miniature tree balanced on a bed on dried moss on a piece of wood.