KVT – Anima at Manzi

KVT – Anima at Manzi

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KVT 2013

KVT into animals, the universe and study tables

I arrived back in Hanoi after spending four months in places where Vietnamese is a foreign language…..just in time to catch Maritta Nurmi’s exhibition at Manzi….and what a great show it is! Whimsical, fanciful, funny, and thoughtful. So whimsical, funny, fanciful and thoughtful that I couldn’t help but let my fanciful imagination run riot.

Apologies to the artist for my poetic license taken with her work and intent

For this opinion maker -who is mightily impressed with all the work in the exhibition – the piece most to die for is the last one described…the cock fight … ‘Birds ‘n Squares’

Unfortunately the exhibition finishes this weekend though most of the Anima works will remain downstairs at Manzi next week.


Anima - Maritta Nurmi 1

Late 2012. The artist comes back to Hanoi after a successful sojourn in Finland and other northern European places, she’s had her art work exhibited to acclaim and pieces purchased for public display. Now she’s been given an artist grant from the Finnish government to pursue her work in Vietnam and the Finnish Embassy had undertaken to support an exhibition of her new work at the end of the next year.

Artist’s block…..similar to writer’s block!

The artist wracks her brains as she rides her bicycle through the wintry streets of Hanoi, seeking inspiration. One days she spies an old, stone dog standing guard outside a jumbled antique shop in Nghi Tam Street and the ideas electric light flashes on and off, on and off, in her brain.

She races back to her studio and knows where to begin,

She’s got two large canvasses primed and ready to go and the ancient dogs, the rugged, stone hounds that used to stand guard outside pagodas and palaces are tethered to the canvas in slashes of graphite.

The artist has a soft streak pulsing through her being and somehow she wants to give these canines a lease of freedom….a chance to escape their centuries old lives of immobility. She wants them to realize a dream of freedom not known by too many dogs in Vietnam…those locked in cramped cages or tied up on short chains or enclosed forever in teeny yards or rarely let off tight leashes.

She does an Oscar Wilde to them. She suggests a scenario that could belong in his ‘Happy Prince’ anthology. She gives them bright coats and surrounds them in roses, delicious bones and tessellated diamonds. She covers them in airy dots and bright balloons until they start to fade from captivity.

She releases them.

ANIMA - Dogs n Roses_2

ANIMA - Dogs n Dots_2

Next thing she’s on to is birds….uncaged birds….free flying birds…..that rare sight in the city.

She’s rented a studio for a few years in a suburban oasis of tall trees that still has the sounds of uncaged birds filling the air every morning. When she first took up residence she was amazed. Birds flitted from the safety of tall green trees to the dense lushness of a jungly ngot vine that promised to strangle the alley if left untrimmed. They mated and nested and raised their fledglings in the green meshed branches.

Gradually due to new houses growing where spreading trees once rooted, or cut down by people who wanted a controlled environment, a more gentle, formalized garden… and the glorious, red fruited ngot vine savagely truncated so that baby birds fell to their deaths as nests were decimated… the varieties of birds decreased to just three or four. The invasive house sparrow encroaching across Asia from Europe, red whiskered bulbuls that had managed to escape their pretty cages and sometimes black fantails that chirped and caroled and danced, displaying white fluted tails.

But enough birds still twittered in time to the artists own early morning song that three pictures were devoted to them.

The first a Confucian skyscape…as rigorously controlled as are formalized gardens, though some clouds were attempting to reform into the shape of blousy roses. Flying through them or perched amidst them were negative shapes of the artist’s beloved morning birds.

A grid of flamboyant, acid yellow dots attempt to blot out the sky perhaps to make the viewer a little uneasy at the threat to order and conformity…….or even, perhaps, push them to think about man made pollutants that haze and threaten.

ANIMA - Birds and Clouds_2

The other two bird canvasses are elongated windows, perhaps like those the artist gazes through each morning, each one framed in green, printed fabric that she had printed especially in India a couple of years ago.

In one, called ‘Birds n Birds’, the varieties are celebrated in monochrome as they strut and preen and perch and dance across a sky of aluminum leaf … shining like an early morning sky hazed in misty cloud with the sun pushing through.

Its partner is eerily exact except it is devoid of birds.

Nuff said!

ANIMA - Birds and Birds 2013

ANIMA - no birds

Next the artist changes her focus to a really endangered species, any monkey that lives wild in Vietnam.

Once again she covers her canvasses with aluminum with a slight leaf pattern embedded into it. She has a metallic wallpaper of regular mistletoe leaf pattern and she cuts out monkey shapes and glues them to the silver background.

The effect is playful, decidedly and unashamedly decorative but the names of the canvasses belie any cuteness that can be attached. ‘Monkeys and Mistletoe’ One and Two. Norse legend has it that mistletoe has the ability to raise the dead and that good luck and love are bestowed on those who sit under it.

She is hopeful that some viewers will see the dichotomy of her intentions

ANIMA - Monkeys and Mistletoe II_2

ANIMA - Monkeys and Mistletoe I_2

Next the artist takes on board the farmer’s friend, the dung beetle. She again uses a background of silver aluminum leaf and frames them in balls of gold leaf and brown dung to reference both the farmer and the ancient Egyptians who worshipped this scarab beetle.

She then grids the beetles so that they resemble an heraldic shield or tapestry. Perhaps there could be seen similarity to the heraldic representation of the bee by the Emperor Napoleon. In one the rigid conformation is unbalanced as she adds balls of gold and dung to the grid to give an effect that the beetles are indeed pushing sh-t uphill.

She wonders if anyone will draw analogies to the toiling proletariat, or to the likely demise of the dung beetle due to man’s overuse of chemical fertilizers and other toxic soil additives.

ANIMA - Beetles Doo Dung Iaa

ANIMA - Beetles Doo Dung IIa

Finally in a fit of pure fun and fancy she hauls into her studio a huge, old rusting tray and decides to use cerise, aqua, acid yellow and white metallic paint to bring out a scene of two fighting cocks sparring and jousting as a hen waits in the background waiting to take advantage of the winner. She realizes that although her motivation is a Finnish folk tale, the scene will be enjoyed by Vietnamese viewers as well….and perhaps some viewers may relate it to the country’s unbalance of boys to girls where in the near future females will indeed be able to stand back and enjoy their superiority of numbers.

ANIMA - Birds n Squares_2

Included in the exhibition are samples of smaller works from Marittas last and similarly impressive exhibition at Art Vietnam. They look as fresh as when I last saw them.

Ten small holed, round, silver trays are from her Universe series and have delightful references to a variety of art movements and are a steal at about $300 each

ANIMA - Xoi Universe 01

ANIMA - Xoi Universe 06

ANIMA - Xoi Universe 07

ANIMA - Xoi Universe 10

My swoon-over pieces are Maritta’s laminated student study table tops. These are – or were – small tray tables that university students from the countryside would place over their thighs as they studied in cramped dorms or dingy overcrowded rooms….I wonder if they’ve been made redundant by modernity. Maritta has overprinted the laminate and turned them into magnetic art pieces (definitely magnetic for me!)

The fourteen on show are a few of the forty or more that she has exhibited in many countries since 2007

ANIMA - Dolce Vita Tray 24 2007

ANIMA - Dolce-Vita-Tray-32

ANIMA - Perfume One-III

ANIMA - Tea Couture 6

Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.


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