Trevor Yeung’s second solo exhibition at Blindspot Gallery, “In-between”, is conceived as a meandering walking path by a solitary wanderer in an anonymous park. Neither going east nor west, neither day nor night, neither belonging nor outcast, the wanderer has no particular destination or itinerary in mind, and instead strays to his own reveries. Yeung deepens his existing practice on ecology and botany by exploring a wider range of medium underneath the terrestrial plants and critters, utilising materials such as stones and minerals, soil and clay, dust and debris. The artist relays a ubiquitous yet idiosyncratic state of in-betweenness evident in the quotidian life of beings and the aspirations for meaningful relationships.
The path takes the wanderer far from familiar landscapes to the present one situated between distance and nearness. In The borrowed relief (moon of home) (2017), Yeung constructs a mini-landscape that helps travelers ease the sorrows of being far away from home. As a metonymy of a native Chinese garden, the landscape consists of all the natural elements found in one’s homeland. The mirror at the bottom mimics the reflective surfaces of water, while the mangrove is a wooden plant that grows only in subtropical coastal areas, specifically between salt and fresh waters. Hanging by a red thread on the branches, a round-shaped jade disk symbolises the moon, a familiar literary trope canonised by the Chinese classical poetry that conjures up “ready-made” images of loneliness, homesickness, nostalgia and reunion.
In Highlights (purifier promotion) (2018), Yeung inscribes by hand a Chinese phrase on a white marble tray, “when the smog is upon us, what could one do but escape?” The phrase is popular among the netizens of China, who have lived through periods of heavy urban pollution. The need for breathable air becomes an apocalyptic scenario, headlining many discussions on climate displacement and smog emigrants. Another photograph, Brown Snow (2018), presents an equally polluted environment in Dhaka, Bangladesh, while a designated cleaning cloth made from local Jamdani muslin hangs right next to the frame. The cleaning cloth will be used to clean the surface of the frame, trapping atmospheric and house dusts alike, all of which becomes an integral part of the work. Both of these works encourage active cleaning and wiping, prompting a careful interaction between the keeper and the thing.
Some works present a state between care and abandon. We are both loser (2017) is a photograph taken by the artist during his residency at Parc Jean- Jacques Rousseau in Ermenonville, France, where the namesake philosopher spent his last days and died in the arms of his longtime partner Thérèse. However, not everyone in the park dies in such companionable circumstances:the photograph is the witness of a dying male swan, who suffers a fatal wound by a competitor in a duel for love, huddles in a concealed corner of the waterway, and is waiting to die alone. Chicken Ribs (2018) is an alabaster soap worn by repeated use, too lean to clean but too wasteful to discard. In growing onions (2015), half a dozen onion bulbs are left to its own device and thrive by sprouting unruly leaves and inflorescence. Its growth is perhaps aided by the electro-luminescence of a bundle of mismatched lamps in Chaotic Suns (white) (2018), which seems to mushroom egregiously out of the concrete ceiling. Even these forsaken creatures form an ecology of its own. The ultimate self-care perhaps involves the paradoxical act of exile and abandonment.
In Yeung’s new creation for the Enigma series, photographic images are imbued with an ambivalence between expectation and disappointment, as a metaphor for the aspirations of human relationships. Fogged Plate (2018) shows the defective and warped surface of a designer plate that the artist specially ordered from a ceramic artist he admires greatly. Equally warped, then, are the promises of mass reproduction and the failure of faithful representation. Garden Sitter (The world is burning) (2018) captures two lovers embracing each other casually in the botanical garden. The artist places a tree right in the middle of the photograph, attempting to conceal the intrusiveness of this public display of affection. We are both misled (2018) shows a handicapped one-legged seagull on the shores whom the artist initially mistakes as a healthy one deceptively begging for food. The shock of such misrecognition gives the artist great disappointment, in the candid realisation of his own failure in empathy and imagination.
Some works are between monumentality and unimportance. The Chinese literati have long delighted in the meandering patterns of marble stones, interpreting these natural formations as the abstraction of grand landscapes. Like the brushstrokes on ink paintings, the swirls and veins in the stone metamorphose into seas of fog, chivalrous mountains and cruising waters. In The borrowed relief (marble of soil) (2018), Yeung decides to imitate the material by mixing and manipulating a white porcelain clay and a black clay. These man-made porcelain marble paintings are between natural and artificial, between archetype and facsimile. Traditional Chinese landscape paintings often include tiny human figures – fishermen, scholars, wanderers – whose actions are unimportant compared to the sublime scale of the topography. There might not even be a figure in Yeung’s marble landscapes, for to meander meaningfully is to get lost in the scenery.
Trevor Yeung graduated from the Academy of Visual Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University in 2010. Yeung’s practice uses botanic ecology, horticulture, photography and installations as metaphors that reference the emancipation of everyday aspirations towards human relationships. Yeung draws inspiration from intimate and personal experiences, culminating in works that range from image-based works to large-scale installations.
Yeung has participated in biennials and exhibitions including “Cruising Pavilion” at the 16th International Architecture Biennale (Venice, Italy, 2018), the 38th EVA International Biennale (Limerick, Ireland, 2018), the 4th Dhaka Art Summit (Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2018), “The Other Face of the Moon” (Asia Culture Center, Gwangju, South Korea, 2017), “Seal Pearl White Cloud” (4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Australia, 2016), “Adrift” (OCAT Shenzhen, China, 2016), “CHINA 8 – Paradigms of Art: Installation and Object Art” (Osthaus-Museum Hagen, Germany, 2015) and the 10th Shanghai Biennale (China, 2014). His work is collected by Kadist Art Foundation and M+ Museum (Hong Kong). Yeung currently lives and works in Hong Kong.