At the Art Porters Gallery, a new exhibition called "Flower Flights" opened last week. It was a solo showcase of flower charcoal drawings by 32-year-old Singaporean artist, Yanyun Chen. These drawings are observations of the different states of a flower in its lifetime — an allegory to the ebb and flow of human and life in general.
For the past four years, Chen has been visiting the 18-year-old local florist, Floral Magic, in search of flowers and arrangements for her to draw. "We happened to be the florist that has been supplying her [with] flowers," Linnette Lau, a florist at Floral Magic recalls. "She came back every few weeks or so for a new set of flowers to draw. There were new things to learn in every arrangement about the behaviour of fresh flowers, chasing their lifespan before they wilted."
Lau and her family behind the floristry business watched Chen draw and grow over the years. They got the front-row seats to the makings of this exhibition. "This led her to do one, and then another — and that created a whole series of 'Chasing Flowers'," the 27-year-old Lau continues. The series was further developed into a solo exhibition.
When news of this exhibition came up, Chen approached the florists asking for them to join the exhibition. "She asked if we would like to create something for the exhibition," recounts Josephine Lau, Linnette Lau's older sister.
The brief that Chen gave the florists was an abstract one — they were to experiment with new "materials and surfaces" to present the ephemerality of flowers. "Her brief informs us of the textures, forms, lines, [and] sometimes included an adjective or two about the overall feel. Also, a sketch as to how she wanted the overall composition to look like," Linnette Lau chimes in.
The result was something that was eventually dubbed "floral fabric" which "took a total of 35 man hours — the work of five florists," Josephine Lau explains. The florists took some five panels of soft wire mesh and manually weaved the stems of flowers into the mesh. Then they securely sew moss "onto the mesh for it to stay put."
The white flowers sewn on the mesh may still be fresh and blooming right now, but they are expected to wither and dry into "different shades of golden brown" within the next six months as the fabric sits in the exhibition space. "It's a piece of work that is meant to dry and shed as it is made with fresh materials," says Linette Lau. Even when dried and preserved, this floral artwork has a lifespan. "It should be good for display for another two or three years."
To Josephine Lau, flowers have always had a place in artworks and exhibitions. "They were symbolic in the paintings of the Renaissance, [there were] detailed studies for the Dutch masters, [they were] abstracted and incorporated into Pop Art, [and] presented in so many other ways." Outside of paintings, sculptures and graphic illustrations, flowers on their own have been deemed art — case in point is the art of Ikebana which originated in Japan.
While flowers symbolise numerous things in art — lilies for purity, chrysanthemum for longevity, lotus for rebirth, red roses for romantic passion, and sunflowers for naive passion. They, however, altogether symbolise the passage of time. To Linnette Lau, someone who spends days and nights working with flowers, her take on Chen's pursuit of floral artworks is this: "Chasing flowers was a meditation on [Chen's] role as a 'witness-of-death'." It seems, that Lau is one of these witnesses too.
View the floral fabric at Yanyun Chen's solo exhibition, "Flower Flights" at Art Porters Gallery, 64 Spottiswoode Park Road, from 7 November 2018 to 4 January 2019.
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