Opening: Thu 10 Nov, 6 pm
Exhibition: 10 Nov – 16 Dec 2011
From San Art:
San Art presents a solo exhibition “Fullness of Absence” by artist Nguyen Thai Tuan. Nguyen Thai Tuan is one of Vietnam’s most significant artists of his generation, whose artistic practice is anchored in the symmetry of fullness and absence. Where are our memories fullest? What triggers/limits our imagination to recall the facts of the past? For Nguyen Thai Tuan, space and its objects, the relationship between body and matter, is of unquestionable import.
A woman with no body, dressed in a crème suit wearing hotel-like slippers, sits in a chaise lounge chair. The knees of this figure push the linen of her trousers, as do the elbows and stomach. Her suggestive volume lies in contrast to the objects around her that appear to have no depth – a cupboard, a chest of drawers with a mirrored closet and footstool. The room is dark in its surroundings, rendered in a palette of somber hues and the viewer is inexplicably drawn to not only this character-less woman, but also her fragmented mirrored reflection. The ownership of this room and the people who use its objects in ‘Interior 1’ are of key concern. This painting is part of a series entitled ‘Heritage’ by Nguyen Thai Tuan who aligns Vietnamese historical sites and domestic objects to the complex memory of society and its political structure in Vietnam. Nguyen Thai Tuan’s stage hangs suspended between the world of the past and the present and this suspension is integral to his art.
Nguyen Thai Tuan’s large-scale painterly interiors are inspired in part by the palace compound of Emperor Bao Dai, Vietnam’s last king of the Nguyen Dynasty, who was also King of Annam (present-day Vietnam) under French protection from 1926 to 1947. Designed and built by Robert Clement Bourgery in 1933, this compound is situated in the central highlands of Vietnam in Dalat, which was the last seat of colonial power during the Indochina period from 1887 to 1954. Composed of three palaces or villas, this site is now a popular tourist ‘museum’ in Dalat, which is also the city where Nguyen Thai Tuan currently lives and works.
What struck Nguyen Thai Tuan the most about this residence was his knowledge of the history of its ownership, for it uniquely charts the socio-political phases of Vietnam from colonial, to imperial, to proletariat, to ‘petty’ bourgeois’, to today’s ‘new acquirers’ – a term coined by the artist himself denoting the burgeoning wealth of a small, yet influential, part of Vietnamese society who are often descendents of the historical ‘proletariat’ cause. Taking this site as subject, the critical poetry behind Thai Tuan’s paintings rests in his juxtaposition of the differing dress and pose of these social classes against a drab backdrop of domestic objects from this residence that appear like a false façade.
Today, this palace compound is marketed as Bao Dai’s last residency, with no public mention of its subsequent or prior owners. Perhaps this is a strategy in building national pride by eulogizing the existence of Vietnamese dynastic rule, which is ironic considering Vietnam is governed as a Communist country whose ideology opposes such a privileged class. Nguyen Thai Tuan deliberately alludes to such contradiction, particularly in light of Emperor Bao Dai’s palace grounds in urgent need of maintenance and repair despite its popularity as a tourist site. Through his own subtle pictorial devices Nguyen Thai Tuan questions the effect of these changing power dynamics in ownership, prompting his viewers to remember the role of political institutions in the changes in social consciousness and cultural attitudes of society. Despite an increase in economic means in the last 20 years, Vietnamese society is still blind to the physical and psychological decay of the civic, educational and cultural structures of contemporary Vietnam.
Recalling the American modernist, Ed Hopper in his treatment of color in the depiction of interior spaces; while capturing a similar social darkness of Gerhard Richter who takes particular historical moments as pictorial frames and ‘iconicizes’ them; Nguyen Thai Tuan’s current practice also recalls the contemporary photographs of American artist Thomas Demand in his stripping of time, clues and existence of people in place and also the work of Chinese artist Hu Yang, whose entry into the private spaces of differing social classes in Shanghai photographically illustrate how the ownership of objects denotes social class.
Nguyen Thai Tuan was born in Quang Tri Province in 1965. He graduated from Hue Fine Arts College in 1987. He lives and works in Dalat.
For further information, please contact Nhung Le: [email protected]
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