Written by Ut Quyen for Hanoi Grapevine
Please do not copy or re-post without permission from the author and Hanoi Grapevine
Sculpture exhibition “Echo” is taking place at Vietnam Fine Arts Museum (until 15 April), marking a milestone in the creative career of Tran Van An when he shifts his focus to sculpture on the two-dimensional surface of metal, digging deep into inner emotions and tapping on historical issues.
Sculpture enthusiasts who have long been familiar with Tran Van An’s works through his series Flower Seasons might be surprised seeing the exhibition “Echo”. No longer an aesthetic-focused Tran Van An known for aluminum and cast iron sculptures with nature-inspired patterns created with a soldering iron on theirs surfaces, “Echo” shows a passionate soul of an artist in the search for an inner conversation with the medium he works on. “I am very impassioned when I work with metal, especially iron, because of its strength and persistence. It always fills me with eagerness, like I belong to it and it belongs to me.” , said Tran Van An.
Every artwork in the exhibition is the artist’s answer in the search for different metal surface treating methods. Some works have a minimal flat surface, others were treated with mounding and heating techniques to create their curvature. The round welded spots are the connecting dots of emotion and of the theme of the whole exhibition. Depending how long they were welded, these small – big, shallow – deep spots were formed with various density, creating different visual effects: strong and gentle, familiar and strange.
Artworks in the exhibition “Echo” are divided into two categories: round sculptures and reliefs, with the visual languages that at first glance seem completely different from each other. With the two round sculptures Windows and Escape, their geometric surface is minimal, strong, clean-cut, showing a deep interaction with the medium during the creative process. Inspired by an ancient piece of armor, Windows is created with strong, flat blocks, with windows erecting from the surface like the mighty arms of the ancient Dai Viet warrior. All the while, Escape is shaped as a giant arrow with the arrowhead detached from the shaft as if to find its very own target. The elongated shape, the tiny contact area between the artwork and the ground show the sophisticated precision that was put into the sculpture to keep it standing still on the ground.
Meanwhile, 22 reliefs named Puzzles on the wall have a complex surface, reminding us of Impressionism in the late 19th – early 20th century. The artist used the welding rod like he would a paintbrush. Round spots covering the artwork’s surface create a soft, harmonious feel to it. If you take a careful look at these works from a long distance, you might as well forget that they were made from hard, cold metals, but instead feel thrilled, excited, yet gentle and cooling as a summer rain.
Colors are also carefully used to fostering different emotions. With some works, the artist deliberately leaves out the original color of the metals, creating a feeling of coldness and rigidity. Some others are of dark blue, red and black colors, making them more joyful and lively. “I think only these three colors are appropriate for the metal medium. I have experimented with others, but they are all not suitable and ruin the feeling of metals. ”
The main source of inspiration for this series are modern sculpture language driven by emotions from metal artifacts in the history museum. “From the copper arrows to pieces of armor printed in history books, or museum artifacts, from the first time I saw them, they gave me special feelings. They always make me admire our ancestors’ skillful metallurgic techniques, ” added Tran Van An.
Having been familiar with welding techniques even before becoming a sculpture student, Tran Van An knows metals as if they talk to him. For him, working with metal not only needs to be technically stable but also love, passion for the profession, and understanding of the material. Say, although both are metal, aluminum and copper don’t bring about strong emotions like iron does. With these two, the primary method used is casting. Casting techniques will turn the final work into nothing like its original state. The process of molding, casting, cooling and processing creates significant deviations. The surface of the casted blocks tends to be more curved, and no longer clear-cut as other blocks created by cutting, welding. Meanwhile, iron and stainless steel allow artists to be more comfortable and proactive in processing, shaping, finishing up each part of stable, strong, clean blocks. In addition, these materials is readily available, easy to find, have a strong molecular connection allowing size flexibility.
Debuted in 2010 with his first artwork High-rise, participated in the exhibition celebrating 1000 years of Thang Long – Hanoi, and after a series of works including Lop vo (Shell), Gian no (Expand), Du an moi (New Project), Lop bui thoi gian (Dust of Time), Tran Van An impressed art professionals and enthusiasts with his rational, sophisticated, minimalist visual language. The series Mua hoa (Flower Season) made during 2015-2018 was an aesthetic-focused period in his creative career. With this exhibition “Echo”, Tran Van An wants to mark an end to this old period with aluminum and cast iron to begin a new chapter of experimenting on metal sheets, utilizing the interaction between inner emotions and the medium, tapping on social and historical issues. Commenting on this, sculptor Dao Chau Hai said: “Being an artist means always being cruel to yourself” – because on their creative path, many artists have to be willing to trample and throw away their old self in order to move forward.
(These artworks are part of Vietnam Fine Arts Museum’s collection)
Images from the exhibition “Echo” (provided by the artist):