Written with photos by Hà Bi for Hanoi Grapevine
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“Đàn bà đẻ” (Women in labor) is how I called the golden apple snail laying eggs upside down in Đặng Thùy Anh’s exhibition. They appear in special installations, sculptures, photos and videos in various forms. It is easy to feel the connection between the “women in labor” and the space created with straight lines arranged by Thùy Anh.
“Women in labor” – snail or human?
Golden apple snail is a quite common species in Vietnam. They have been around since the 1980s with the “task” of feeding cattle. But they have diligently “exceeded the target” with their characteristic of defying all odds to reproduce, and then become a threat to agriculture. Appear to be slow, they wickedly hide in hard-to-find places, are nocturnal, bite across rice stalks in groups. Just over the course of one night, they leave hundreds of thousands of lotus-pink snail eggs with a very high survival rate. Today, golden apple snail farming remains prohibited.
At this point, you must have rather seen the similarities between golden apple snails and humans.
Also a “low-level” species with an average quantity comparing to other species, humans quickly evolved and dominated the Earth. Compared to the big cats, humans are far inferior in their speed. Compared to underwater species, humans cannot dive deep. Yet mankind has flourished and become a greedy dictator. The birth rate of women in labor is no less than the “women in labor” – snails. From the perspective of many other species, humans are a threat.
In her thinking, Thuy Anh brought the “women in labor” – snails into many experiments to contemplate about “women” – people. These are portrayals of thousands of shades of snails in standard ID photos, aligned in a straight line (Sẽ không bao giờ nữa, a part of Rồi sẽ hóa hư vô). Each image is probably of a different snail but they look strangely identical from the perspective of another species (similar to human ID card to other species). It is a group of “women” snails in labor (video Ngày dọc – Vertical day, a part of Tất cả những gì kiên cố – All fortified things), slowly flourishing, laying pink eggs defying gravity, as straight as a ruler. One can see the “women in labor” – snails crawling along the glass tank (Chậm trôi – Slow, a part of All fortified things – an installation of discarded cassettes, broken vegetable graters, shattered light bulbs…) have suddenly becomes the representative of “women” – people in a simulated world.
A world vertical and perpendicular
Another interesting thing in Thùy Anh’s exhibition is in the space arrangement. The application of parallel and perpendicular lines in decoration is a perfect complement to the contemplation on snails – people.
In the first area, the ID photos (Sẽ không bao giờ nữa, a part of Rồi sẽ hóa hư vô) depict simple and monotonous data bytes of one (many) snails like a binary string of 0101, which looks like a ten-storey apartment building with hundreds of identical windows.
The snail eggs locked in epoxy resin block (Chờ, a part of Rồi sẽ hóa hư vô) on the floor are the same: linear, encaged, motionless. It’s not much different from a bunch of urban kids locked in the house, always under supervision with a stifling, oxygen-less atmosphere, but safe.
Entering the second area, it feels like just having a door closed behind and you will find yourself fall inbetween the lines and right angles that are all the more dreary and rigid. Metal roof sheets with vertical ridges and theirs criss-cross reflections on the floor, on the opposite wall wrap the audience in a stifling mesh of imitation glass.
Humans, since the first application of glass in architecture, have made their living space more transparent, but also less private. With this work, Thuy Anh describes her confused feeling standing at the foot of high-rise buildings – an accomplishment in stark contrast to the four-generation house she lives in. With the glass buildings, she rarely sees the sign of time like a moss patch, a sunny yard or the bell-like laughter of children. Simply because people come and go so fast. The next erases all the traces of the previous person. Glass buildings are easy to clean, and also easy to wash away the forgotten. Architectural critic Justin Davidson thus said, the glass lacks “…the ability to absorb infusions of history and memory, and project it into the present.”
It seemed that the two entities – the snail and the city – had no link. But in the end, snail has been a great “actor” in a simulated city projected to the human world.
This interesting exhibition of Dang Thuy Anh is completed after 2 years of contemplation and discovery is now open to visitors at The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre from now until 19 Jan 2020. It is also part of the Materialize , a program initiated by The Factory in 2007 for artists from the age of 23, born and living in Vietnam. Materialize creates professional exhibition opportunities for Vietnamese artists who have never introduced their works to the public due to the lack of facilities and opportunities.
Đặng Thuỳ Anh (1996, Hanoi) graduated from Vietnam Fine Arts University (2019), majoring in Graphic Design. She started her art career in 2017 with art performances, then continued to explore and experiment with installation art, photography, and conceptual art practices. Her interests revolve around the relationship between human and nature, the visual motifs whose ‘default meaning’ influence social prejudice on gender concepts. In addition, Thuy Anh often uses living individuals, herself included, as well as personal archives as materials in art practice.
Translated by Hanoi Grapevine