Poetry and Nostalgia in “Dear Bicycle” and “Ellipses”

Poetry and Nostalgia in “Dear Bicycle” and “Ellipses”

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Written by ULy and Nguyen Duc Tung for Hanoi Grapevine and VCCA
Do not copy or re-post without permission

On 14 Dec 2018, VCCA hosted two exhibition openings for “Dear Bicycle” by Tran Thu Van and “Ellipses” by Ha Manh Thang.

The two exhibitions take the audience on a tour of nostalgia, of human emotions towards nature, of metaphors on fate and identity in historical events. That message on the value of time is expressed though visually impressive artworks as beautiful and romantic as poetry.

Artist Tran Thu Van at the exhibition opening

Tran Thu Van is a Vietnamese-born French conceptual artist who is based in Paris. “Dear Bicycle” is her first exhibition at VCCA. The exhibition space itself is quite an inspiration to her artworks.

Poetry to Tran Thu Van is the song “Xe dap oi” (Dear Bicyle), sung by Phuong Thao and Ngoc Le, that she remembers since she was young, and the literature works that she read – though not directly – all create the atmosphere for her works. The air of nostalgia, the metaphors of the signs of times, the melancholy are found throughout her exhibition.

With regard to history, Tran Thu Van clearly searched for elements of time and typicality as ‘ingredients’ for her works.

Artwork “Họa Mi” (Robin) inspired by Ha Long Bay, a “typical” beauty to foreigners when talking about Vietnam, made with used sails sewed upon an American-army parachute

Behind the curtain of “sails – parachute” is a large mural with gray as the dominant shade, created by plastering six layers of color, one over the other – six colors of six herbicides that the US uses in the Vietnam War (white, pink, green, blue, violet, and orange – the most known chemical for its destructive properties).

Artwork “Những Sắc Xám” (Shades of Gray)

The nearly invisible synthetic resin layer is almost transparent on the floor, corresponding to the gray painting on the wall. Taking a closer look at the introductory note, the viewers will get to know more about rubber plantations as a mark of French colonization in Vietnam in the early 20th century, which had made a turning point in the country’s history and its later revolutions.

The synthetic resin layer on the floor

“Tiểu thuyết vô đề” (Untitled Novel) is an installment made from the leaves of rubber trees taken from the Phu Rieng rubber plantation in the South – a historical site where riots of workers against the cruelty of French owners first started. Each leaf was coated with a glue-ceramic mixture, calcined, and burned from the inside, leaving only the ceramic shell in a leaf shape, beautifully laid out on a wide platform.

Tran Thu Van plastering the glue-ceramic mixture on the leaves
Artwork “Tiểu thuyết vô đề” (Untitled Novel)

In “Ellipses” by the renowned artist Ha Manh Thang, 30 paintings are interspersed with installments – which are the antiques he collected. The greatest inspiration for Ha Manh Thang is the mark of time on the antiques, bounded by a sense of the abundance of nature and the tranquility showing the sophisticated human observations in old poetry. Putting himself in the shoes of a poet, Ha Manh Thang mainly depicts the “dying” moments of spring, autumn and winter, and shadow shifting on objects, through calligraphy-like strokes and engravings on layers of colors on the canvas, most of which are in shades of black-gray, ash silver – all displayed in an dimmed exhibition space resembling a fading light.

Images and artwork details from Ha Manh Thang’s exhibition:

Close-up image of each line on an artwork in Ha Manh Thang’s exhibition

The influence of Middle Ages poetry is also reflected in the layout of each painting. The verse is short, yet opens up a vast and all-encompassing space. “We do not need a major or minor angle of view, but an all-encompassing one. The focus of the scene is wherever you lay our eyes on”(Ha Manh Thang). With Ha Manh Thang’s artworks, the viewers need a certain time, distance and space.

Several antiques exhibited next to the paintings, indicating inspiration.

After the opening, “Dear Bicycle” was accompanied by an interactive performance called “Chạm – Rung” (Touch – Vibrate) with music by sound artist Bui Linh Ha and the voice of stage artist Nguyen Hoa My. This performance will take place at 2.30 pm on Saturday afternoons.

These two exhibitions are free-entry and will open from 14 Dec 2018 until 10 Feb 2019. During this time, VCCA will also host talk shows on contemporary art.

Note: An interview by Hanoi Grapevine with Tran Thu Van and Ha Manh Thang is coming soon. Stay tuned for more!

Translated by Hanoi Grapevine

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