Written with photos by Hà Bi for Hanoi Grapevine
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Seeing Trương Tân’s exhibition “Light Years Away” at Galerie Quynh, I think that this last 2 (or more) years for him has been a journey beyond the boundaries of the tangible on Earth. Diving into the deep ocean with jellyfish, sailing to the open sea or flying millions of light years away just to look deeper into one’s self. And then see a bigger, deeper, all the more bewildering world…
Walking in the universe
Trương Tân is considered a bold and creative artist. He is also the first openly gay artist to talk about LGBTQ+ topics freely in Vietnam through paintings, porcelain statues, performances and installations which were created with an unrestrained transition of multiple media.
Among them, what attracts Trương Tân the most is probably lacquer – a special traditional medium of Vietnamese people. A lacquer painting can be very “simple”, or extremely costly. Because the material is wooden planks (specially designed to adapt to hot and humid weather without cracking), lacquer, mother-of-pearl… can be very easy to acquired or extremely “expensive” like gold and silver leaves, sea shells… Traditional lacquer usually have a fragile beauty, sophistication and elegance. But in Trương Tân’s works, lacquer is somewhat rough and edgy, with naked male bodies clumped together to form a mass, depicting both violence and intercourse.
Experiment with lacquer for long enough to revisit every old corner, patch up with new things, contemplate, arrange, ponder, then rearrange, contemplate, revisit… Trương Tân continuously challenges himself by various approaches to the same material – lacquer. Around early 2017, he started working on “Con người” (Human) – a series of surreal paintings of celestial bodies swiveling in space. Arranged neatly in a room, the 24 paintings in this series take viewers on a complete trip to the galaxy.
Visiting the exhibition, I had to stand very close to “Đỏ” (Red), “Ký ức” (Memory), “Xa lạ” (Foreign) or “Nhìn” (See), “Gió” (Wind), “Tuyết” (Snow)… to look deep into the planets. “Human” – the work that impressed me most – at first seemed like the moon was being obscured by a dark cloud in a cloudy night. But when I got closer, I could then clearly see the silhouettes of human faces enshrouded the small glowing planet. Their expression ranged from ambitious, desiring to abominable and dangerous, which made me nervous. Just by leaning to the left or right of the art piece, you could easily see other layers of these humans. They seem like a hidden threat, a thief hiding in the darkness, out of our sight. Perhaps Trương Tân thought that, for the Earth, the human face needed to be depicted exactly like that.
This is also a great inspirational work for Truong Tan. After “Con người” (Human), he created 23 other works on the same theme, representing the levels of emotions people experience in life. All are surprisingly detailed, superior to any other lacquer work. They are exhibited in the same room, bringing the viewers of drifting amidst the galaxy, from one level to another.
Walking in the ocean
In another perspective, Trương Tân took the audience on a dive to the bottom of the ocean, or drifting through the big blue. Please don’t be in a rush to determine where this open sea is in this small world, because maybe an ocean of such is in your heart.
It’s “Gia đình” (Family, 2019) – a swarm of 42 jellyfishes meticulously made with silk and polyester – hovering mid-air in a soft dim light. The largest jellyfishes, the ‘father’ and the ‘mother’, ‘swim’ above, and the ‘children’ quietly tailing down at the bottom, looking very close-knit and orderly. Each has their tentacles of different shapes and materials, all soft, willowy and gorgeous. But few people know that anything beautiful contains poison. Just a simple jellyfish sting can kill a person.
What’s special is, jellyfish is not a sentimental species. They come together by instinct rather than out of compassion like many other. But here they still had the Family. Perhaps Trương Tân saw for certain the irony going on in human society – a species of compassion: we come together out of love, create families; and then may be attached to each other still but not by affection but only by responsibility. A cold-hearted ‘constraint’ of society.
On the next floor, the audience will get to see the second installation work called “Hành trình” (Journey, 2019). The work consists of ten thousand pieces of handmade paper – images of unicellular creatures – on a long, narrow bamboo bridge. This bridge is made from a white mosquito net, like a boat floating in the ocean, or simply, a pure path. It might remind you of salmon swimming upstream to where they were born to lay their eggs, or a flow of life matter streaming from the father’s body to the mother’s… A great and beautiful metaphor for the answer on origin, genetics and inheritance. There, we can put away the shame, the obscene prejudices that we only dare to whisper, to see its true nature, which is simple, pure and worthy of respect.
Chuyển từ các tác phẩm tự truyện đầu tay của mình, chuỗi tác phẩm nằm trong “Bảy tỉ năm ánh sáng” là một sự phát triển dày dặn hơn về lý tưởng lẫn kĩ năng của Trương Tân. Đây là triển lãm cá nhân đầu tiên của Trương Tân trong suốt mười năm qua. Triển lãm kéo dài từ 15/11/2019 đến 04/01/2020 tại Galerie Quynh (118 Nguyễn Văn Thủ, Quận 1, TP. HCM) với nhiều tác phẩm sơn mài và sắp đặt.
Transitioning from his first autobiographical works, “Light Years Away” series is a more mature development of Trương Tân on both ideals and techniques. This is Trương Tân’s first solo exhibition in ten years. The exhibition lasts from 15 Nov 2019 to 4 Jan 2020 at Galerie Quynh (118 Nguyen Van Thu, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City) with multiple lacquer paintings and installations.
Trương Tân was born in 1963 in Hanoi. From the early 90s, Trương Tân has proved his influence through works that transcend every boundary. He participated at numerous international exhibitions in the last three decades. His works have been displayed in many prestigious institutes, such as Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA; Gallery 4A, Sydney, Australia; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany… He has also performed in many countries in the world.
Translated by Hanoi Grapevine