Singapore Art Museum – Lizards Tail by Hiromi Tango

The concept of dropping a lizard’s tail is the central metaphor for Hiromi Tango’s visual art exhibit, “Lizard’s Tail”, at the Singapore Art Museum. Inspired by her volunteer experiences at an Australian Youth Centre where she interacted with disengaged youth, she conceptualized a lizard’s ability to drop its tail as a metaphor for how humans might somehow be able to do the same with painful memories and emotions that are difficult to process. She focused especially on traumatic emotional experiences that influence the development of the brain at a young age which results in the brain going into a survival state also known as the classic “fight or flight” response [1].

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When the real-life lizards that inspired the exhibition are threatened by a predator, they shed all or part of their tail [2]. Why lose an entire limb? Lizards avoid capture by using their tails to break away from predators that have grabbed them by the tail. This provides them with a distraction which deflects the attention of the predator away from the vulnerable head and body. This isn’t such a sacrifice for the lizards, however, as their tail can grow back [2]. So, sacrificing the lizard’s own tail may allow the lizard to survive. It’s like the reptile version of the movie, “127 Hours”.

That doesn’t mean that there are no consequences from this. Many studies have shown that there may be a trade-off when dropping a tail that results in lower metabolic rates because the cost to regenerate limbs may be high [3]. There may also be a trade-off with dropping tail and slower locomotion, along with lower reproductive rates and survival rates because the tail is no longer there to distract predators [4&5].

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Hiromi Tango and NUS Dance Ensemble performing Lizard’s Tail

 

Fortunately, I was at the opening weekend for the exhibition and watched a live performance from Ms. Tango accompanied by the National University of Singapore (NUS) Dance Ensemble. It was a beautiful and mesmerizing performance that brought the artwork to life. There will only be three more live performances by NUS (click here for the dates), however, the artwork is part of the “Imaginarium-To the Ends of the Earth” exhibition that is open from May 6th to August 27th, 2017. There will also be Lizard tail workshops where anyone can make their own lizard tail. Though this is more catered to families and kids, as I was told by one staff member, “we are all kids at heart!” Furthermore, the “Imaginarium” exhibition also has other visual art and media artwork that incorporates environmentalism and science into the artwork being displayed which is worth spending some time observing.

So, go, check it out, but just don’t drop a limb.

Click here for more info on Imaginarium-To the Ends of the Earth.

 

References:

[1] Tango, N. (2016). Lizard Tail (Breaking Cycle) Retrieved from: http://hiromitango.com/Lizard-Tail-Breaking-Cycle

[2] Arnold, E. N. (1984). Evolutionary aspects of tail shedding in lizards and their relatives. Journal of Natural History, 18(1), 127-169.

[3] Vitt, L. J., & Cooper Jr, W. E. (1986). Tail loss, tail color, and predator escape in Eumeces (Lacertilia: Scincidae): age-specific differences in costs and benefits. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 64(3), 583-592.

[4] Bateman, P. W., & Fleming, P. A. (2009). To cut a long tail short: a review of lizard caudal autotomy studies carried out over the last 20 years. Journal of Zoology, 277(1), 1-14.

[5] Fox, S. F., & McCoy, J. K. (2000). The effects of tail loss on survival, growth, reproduction, and sex ratio of offspring in the lizard Uta stansburiana in the field. Oecologia, 122(3), 327-334.

***If any information is incorrect or needs to be updated, please let me know! Science is about learning from mistakes and moving forward!***

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