This essay explores the aesthetic differences and thematic parallels between the works “Terra Firma” by Frayn Yong and “A Day Without A Tree” by Yeo Chee Kiong from the UNEARTHED art exhibition at SAM.
In terms of formal and physical qualities, distinct differences lie in the use of color, scale, medium and texture by both artists. Yong’s work takes on the form of a miniature panorama constructed with pencil lead. The artist’s choice of material confers the artwork a minimalist, monochromatic appearance along with a carefully calculated yet raw finish. Yeo’s installation on the other hand occupies a significant area of the museum’s interior, establishing an imposing presence. The site-specific work adopts the color scheme of the museum – ceramic white – in order to blend in perfectly with the surrounding space. Unlike Yong who has chosen to use a single material (graphite), Yeo strategically employs mixed media to visually “melt” the brick and plaster columns of the museum’s rotunda, creating a perception of the solids being liquefied and later solidified in that state.
Despite such differences, the works share profound similarities on a conceptual level. Both works seek to examine such issues as the ephemeral and fragile nature of human existence, versus the potent and enduring forces of the natural environment. By using a brittle and insubstantial material, Yong’s work draws reference to how civilizations and buildings we have painstakingly constructed could be easily decimated by the larger forces in nature. Interestingly, the title “Terra Firma”, a Latin phrase for “solid earth”, juxtaposes with the nature of the work which is in fact delicate and fragile, highly susceptible to changes in the external environment. In contrast, the title “A Day Without A Tree” of Yeo’s installation effectively echoes its message: the devastating effects of climate change due to human interference with nature.