Trevor Yeung (b.1988) graduated from the Academy of Visual Arts of the Hong Kong Baptist University in 2010. A characteristic element of Yeung’s mixed media art is that he presents his works in a way which is meant to be shared. The works very often represent an account of his personal obsession with mapping the aesthetic relation between everyday materials, be they plants (bonsai), fish or birds. Through observation and contemplation, he situates them and himself within a network of evolving objects, images and experiences, all of which constitute a working technique that busies itself with revealing the nature of each individual piece. Essentially, these works provoke a unique experience that viewers can partake it.
The Bedroom Show, 2012, was a project that put Trevor Yeung under the local and regional radar. Creating in a non-gallery environment, Yeung opened up his bedroom as a platform to share his admirable collection of plants and goldfish. This happening publicly revealed his hobby and passion for horticulture, but also became a clear statement that the discipline has a major influence on his artistic practice. Unlike his contemporaries who are more preoccupied with the romance of solitude in their workspace and deeply personal stories, Yeung actually expands his own personal language into a distinctive style that orientates itself towards the outer. In this process, the artist reaches beyond personal emotions, and dives into the spatial possibility and openness of the studio space, all part of his search for new connections between objects. Sometimes, this search results in claustrophobic installation pieces.
Anyone who encounters Yeung for the first time will instantly notice the open-mindedness of translating his hobby into radical installations. The process stimulates the non-visual imagination of his viewers; the Seven Gentlemen at the experimental gallery Hard.neck is a perfect example. By turning the gallery into a greenhouse, Yeung creates an immersive environment with fog machines, spinning palm trees and bonsai, each of which are given their own individual names. As the viewers walk around and explore the ‘greenhouse’, they immediately notice that there is moss climbing up the walls, rain is falling behind the window, and water slowly trickling down the branches. By adopting the attitude of a hobbyist to approach his botanical installation, Yeung orchestrates a routine procedure that dominates the way these everyday species evolve, employs a sense of temporal exchange and draws his viewers into a fascinating form of installation. This sculptural installation traces the creation of an organised system, which is destabilised through an organic process, and gradually excavates the unnoticeable relationship between living organisms through a metaphorical approach. Through Seven Gentlemen, Yeung surprises viewers with his ability to create a momentary experience that is bizarrely dreamy, and at the same time suggests the existence of a tangible, networked relationship that emerges within this experience over time. The installation exemplifies Trevor Yeung’s growing confidence to expand the botanical lexicon into a unique style of production of his own, and reveals a bold acquisition of conceptual vocabularies to convey his observations to a wider audience.
More recently, his solo exhibition Trevor Yeung’s Encyclopaedia at the Observation Society in Guangzhou in 2013 further demonstrates the openness and maturing perspective of the Hong Kong artist. Despite the word ‘encyclopaedia’, the exhibition does not focus on semantics. The exhibition suggests neither biological classification nor categorisation, but a potential for scientific and cultural knowledge. Works featured in this exhibition included ‘I could be a good boyfriend’ (2011/2013), ‘Pineapple Universe’ (2013), ‘Let me tuck you in, my Chico’ (2013) and ‘Piranha Department’ (2013). In a laboratory environment, these works present a cosmos of leaves, a bird’s loss of its other half, and a depiction of the hilarious behaviour of piranhas, and the way that they unexpectedly yet beautifully figure as a miniature caricature of the human world. Again, Trevor Yeung plays the master with everyday materials that he is familiar with, and creates his ‘little’ system, taking ‘tender’ control of it as he develops works with a curiously beautiful appearance. These creatures are full of potential and allow the viewers to sneak a peek of a temporal but transcendent world; they seem to bring back that, which is lost in life, along with regrets and memories that immerse us in this incredible experience as we pursue the essence of art.
Less recognised than his botanical and aquatic horticultural installations are Sleepy Bed and Hostelworld – both are ongoing photographic series that retain the open-ended character of Trevor Yeung’s practice, and that are equally important in showing his different personalities.
Compared to his sculptural installations, these works are relatively small in scale and take shape when Yeung is travelling. Essentially, they are photographic portraits of travellers sleeping in hostels and captured by chance: either transformed by engraved glasses or ink-stained wood applied on the surface of the picture, or indeed presented with white stains – as a kind of white noise that interrupts the images and suggests another layer of meaning. Here, a relationship of mutual influences is more directly presented and defines Yeung’s visual approach to his work. The traveller is not confused with the object of the gaze, and so this intimate bond between Yeung and this ‘unknown stranger’, established by pure chance, is honestly informed.
If one carefully studies the practice of Trevor Yeung, it soon turns out that his creation of systems unveils interrelationships, which are otherwise imperceptible. This is all part of his act. His photographs, sculptures and spatial installations make clear the ‘affect effect’ of each and every encounter; and each encounter is, for Yeung, a way to zoom in and demonstrate his own perception of the living world. His works are humorous but not cynical. They are explainable but not overly rationalised. Although his work does not stress language and figures of speech, his bizarre web of associations urges us to constantly look back and examine the very nature of things.