|That’s All There Is by PG Lee and Yeo Tze Yang (2016)|
Reeling in ties that bind
“That’s All There is” is an exhibition by two artists one generation apart. By one generation, I mean Lee was Yeo’s art teacher at Junior College. The works also stand apart because Yeo’s medium of choice is painting, while Lee works in sculpture and installation. “That’s All There is” as a title is significant on a few levels: first, it is a tongue in cheek expression, describing a modest exhibition in a new “Spare Room” gallery that is essentially part of a cafe; second, I would argue that the work exemplifies the essence of painting, sculpture and installation; and third, at a deeper level, describing the (relatively) ephemeral nature of life, and eternal blood ties that bind, that transcends death.
Describing an exhibition as modest might imply a few dilemmas. First, is it oxymoronic to describe something that is “public” as something unassuming, or shy? Second, does it suggest real world budgetary constraints that limit the scale of an exhibition? Third, does it suggest the limit of the artists’ creative endeavours, in quantity and quality? I would argue that it does quite the opposite, overcoming these dilemmas with a creative proposition. The exhibition is an “enabling constraint” (note: Singapore art teachers who are reading this will know where I draw this term from), limited by space, time, budget and space. The exhibition is a “challenge”, piecing together two unrelated practices and making sense of them in a continuum that suggests a universal quality of art, the humanity underlying thoughtful artworks. Lastly, by placing works side by side, it forces the viewer to confront what they know about paintings, sculptures and installations, and what they know about contemporary art.
In Yeo’s body of work, the subject matter of family comes through quite strongly. In the four paintings shown,there is a painting of a kitchen from an interior of a HDB flat, a portrait of the artist’s grandmother, an “aftermath” of a family dinner, and a beach scene with the artist’s father facing the sea, with his back facing the viewer. His paintings can be described as painterly with brushstrokes that carry harmonious yet muted colours, and quietly energetic. The subject matter depicted wobbles expressively in paint and are not the most accurate in proportion or perspective. In short, quite Lucian Freud-like but raw around the edges. But it’s quite clearly enjoyably done. Each brushstroke and coagulated paint adds to the whole.
In Lee’s body of work, the subject matter is less direct, and perhaps metaphorical. In one work, a photograph of the artist’s grandmother in the kitchen, is propped precariously against the wall with a stick. The stick appears wooden, but it might well be made of metal if we consider the rusty spots and bottom end. The large inkjet-printed photograph appears frail, wavering so slightly as the gallery visitors walk about; it might fall just about anytime. In another work, a large enclosed room apleats as if the wax walls might melt. A tiny scribble on the door reads “foolish”, and another detail reads “Buddha” (Fo). Another work shows a large slab of paraffin wax that resembles a translucent white layered cake, sits quietly on an acrylic plinth. The fourth work, has two fishing rods in the distant end of the gallery; a fishing line runs from one, a fixed to the ground stealthily. Many visitors treaded around it with much amusement. Some almost tripped over it, but never beyond the restrain of the fishing rod; the rod simply bounces, and holds the silvery line back in tautness. As sculptural pieces, they command presence and the material use adds to our interpretation of the works; they also encourage the viewer to walk around it. As installations, they interact with the gallery space, and require the audience to “interact” with it: stepping around, inside, or under it.
If we connect what we see of Lee’s works with his earlier works, we relate them with the theme of mortality, or ephemeral qualities of life. In the same vein, Yeo’s work can be interpreted as imbued with an urgency to document his family, and to some extent, the personal, memorable, and significant moments. So both sets of work are less apart than we might think, and their placement in the gallery were considered to yield maximum association between them. Both bodies of work relate to the fleeting-ness of our everyday existence. Perhaps both are stark reminders of the delicate, mortal ties that bind.
That’s All There Is
That Spare Room @ The Fabulous Baker Boy, 7o River Valley Road, 29 Jul – 7 Aug 2016
See: exhibition blog