I saw Blake’s sculptures at Bui before Tet but decided to hold off on an opinion piece until things around town got back to normal. This morning I struggled out of a cocoon of sleepy warmth and realized that my mind had reluctantly shifted from lunar January 13 to the chilly dawn of solar 15 February and I turned on my computer for the first time in fourteen lazy days.
Not that Blake’s burnished bronzes completely left my mind over the two weeks that I spent as the lone guest in a hotel that overlooked a long strand of shell strewn sand, deserted for all but a handful of fishermen, and their flimsy coracles that rode the sea on all but the few days days when wind whistling surf foamed shoreward. Five kilometers of paddy rice plots from the nearest small town and, apart from the constant and seductive murmer of waves, divorced from any mechanical noises…..And, no, I won’t reveal the location of this wintry gem about four hours from Hanoi because after three Tets in a row, five floors above the sea….. with views that sweep to hazed horizons, with a stack of books and sweet solitude…. I want to keep it that way for at least three more .
It was that stack of books that kept Blake’s shattered figures hovering in my mind….those and a chance encounter with a fisherman’s widow who told me about the day in the late sixties when an American pilot spied her 26 year old husband’s bamboo craft bobbing on the waves and decided to strafe it. She was left with three young kids and a life of desperate poverty. Forgiveness has never been on her mind or on those of the widows and families -from the same small village -of fifty more victims of similar, casual but fatal pot shots over the inhumane years of the American War.
And those books! Apart from a delightful breakfast with Truman Capote and Holly Golightly at Tiffany’s, all twelve tomes seemed to slither into the ebb tide of man’s inhumanity to man and as I crept from the wrenching last pages of Yann Martel’s “Beatrice and Virgil” into a tale about a North Vietnamese conscript soldier in a bomb clearing squad, the torn and tortured human sculptures at Bui were achingly clear.
Since a stint as a guest teacher at the University of Fine Arts in Hanoi in the late eighties when he became aware of the appalling and ongoing death and injury caused by unexploded American ordinances in Central Vietnam, Canadian born Blake has sculpted figures, later cast in bronze, that reference ancient Greek and Roman figurative sculptures. As far as I can ascertain, it was the broken remains of such marble sculptures that motivated his Fragment series that represent human bodies shattered by these ordinances….and, as the concept developed, into representations of bodies maimed by land mines carelessly scattered by inhumanely inspired governments. Blake’s bodies, one quarter life size, have been exhibited in major galleries all over the world and part of the sale of every work is donated to mine and ordinance clearing.
A selection of these figures is on display at the Bui until March.
In the BBC News, Caroline Hawley wrote of Blake’s exhibition in London…
Limbs have been torn off and flesh ripped apart. A woman has a breast missing. Yet the injured bodies are strangely beautiful. They are art – with a difference…
and it is this mental juxtaposition of beauty and horror that is central to any exhibition of Blake’s Fragments (not that these represent his total sculptural body of work. Another series, ‘Re think’ is devoted to human rights and in his adopted Monaco, a new series of work along more classical lines has been exhibited and he works marble beautifully too) but it is with the disfigurative pieces that the name Blake is closely associated.
Bui has curated the selection superbly. The sculptures on their plinths are distributed over a field of real, mown lawn that has been installed over all gallery floors. This alone makes a visit to Bui very worthwhile. Before Tet, branches of peach, bursting with pink blossom were displayed in some corners and any viewer with a metaphorical bent would have appreciated the experience as much as I did.
When I researched some places where the Fragments have been exhibited, photographs suggest that the collection is usually arranged formally allowing the sculptures to tell their personal, insane horror stories in a place of ordered calm. And it is this juxtaposition of violent maiming and death with peace and tranquility that makes the theatre of the absurd at Bui so fabulous to view. The playwright Ionesco would approve.
Blake’s Fragments on their pedestals at Bui are an important and even unmissable experience. Look closely at the titles given to each piece and you realize that they are the names of the ordinances that have most certainly caused the disfiguration – and worse- of an innocent human. I certainly recommend it for viewing by citizens of the complicit coalition of the willing who sent troops to assist in the American Invasion (Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand) so that they can pressure their governments to pursue ordinance clearing in Central Vietnam, and to the citizens of up to 37 countries who have yet to sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty so that they may be able help persuade their governments to sign the bloody thing as soon as possible.
Blake is also involved with the very important ‘Witness Collection’ which is an outstanding collection of contemporary Vietnamese fine art from the the 1920ies to 2000. This internationally renowned organization is also involved in other aspects of Vietnamese art such as research and education, arts conservation, arts development, and cultural exchanges.
And why just Blake? Well just try googling Blake Sculptor and see how many Blakes there are that sculpt….so why not be just Blake the Artist? And as for Ward Blakes!
To conclude with another quote from Hawley in BBC News: Already, the pre-show sale of one of Blake’s sculptures – which sell for between £12,000 and £18,000 – has helped to destroy 318 unexploded weapons around the Vietnamese villages of Hung Loc and Tu Loan, and to carry out a survey of landmines in Angola.
|Not a reviewer, not a critic, “Kiếm Văn Tìm” is an interested, impartial and informed observer and connoisseur of the Hanoi art scene who offers highly opinionated remarks and is part of the long and venerable tradition of anonymous correspondents. Please add your thoughts in the comment field below.|