Layers of emotion with “The Foliage 3”
Images by Phan Dan and VCCA
Videos by Phan Dan
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From December 20th, 2019 through February 23rd, 2020 at Vincom Center for Contemporary Art (VCCA), exhibition Toa 3 (The Foliage III) brings together over fifty notable works by emerging artists from Vietnam and abroad. Co-curated by VCCA’s artistic director, Dr. Mizuki Endo, and independent art historian/curator Do Tuong Linh, the exhibition reveals not only the eccentric personalities of the artists but also the extensive exploration and innovation in contemporary art practice, from themes and concepts to media (e.g. sculpture, painting, video art, installation art).
The exhibition offers a wide range of emotions for the visitors as they find their way through different sections of the show, gaining fresh perspectives on the surrounding life issues.
One may find himself overwhelmed at the sight of Nguyen Dinh Phuong’s Apollo va To (Apollo and To the dog), a sculpture piece made of clay and styrofoam, materials that are commonly used in the daily life of Vietnamese people. At Apollo’s feet neatly sits To, the dog, seemingly in anticipation of something, his expression tinged with sadness. What might he be expecting in the road ahead? And for what reason did the artist juxtapose the Vietnamese dogwith the Greek god? As the viewer’s eyes then turn to the monumental figure of Apollo, they are met with a faint frown, and the many questions it subsequently raises.
Apollo and To by Nguyen Dinh Phuong, two-channel video onto VCCA’s window display area, a video work bears the same title but hardly shows any resemblance to the sculpture. Tracking the back-and-forth walking movement of the silhouettes, one cannot help but speculate over the ambiguity of the video piece, its relations with the sculpture, and its role in delivering the artist’s message.
In another corner, one may notice startled expressions and audible gasps from those who stumble upon the mixed-media series Lo mo (Slaughterhouse) by Nguyen Van Du. In the artist’s every meticulous stroke lie the rawness and brutality of what goes on inside the slaughterhouse, something that only few people have the chance to witness, and even fewer have the desire to.
In front of such harsh images, for example in one of the paintings there is a lifeless gaze of the doomed calves, many quickly averted their eyes and moved away the moment they realized what they were looking at. “I don’t feel like eating meat anymore.”- exclaimed a viewer. Perhaps, such reactions are what Du has hoped for his series to provoke?
Beyond the gloominess of Lo Mo await the quiet and appeasing black rock sculptures of Luong Trinh. Smooth edges and reflective surfaces work together with intentional lighting to produce alluring effects, assuming an ancient and mythical quality for these work of art.
Phan Anh, meanwhile, brings to Toa 3 6m vuong tu nam 79 (Six square meters from 1979), an installation inspired by a story of his own family, and it could be a story of the community at large. The piece addresses the ever-changing nature of time, space, and the human life. It also depicts man’s adaptation to the surroundings as his struggle for survival.
On the other hand, Andrea Orejarena and Caleb Stein experimented with various materials and methods, ranging from aluminum foil to carbon copy paper, silkscreen, watercolor, photography and video. The two artists’ collab series attempts to trace the memories of war, drawing on stories of the people from Huu Nghi (Friendship) village. The village is a residential facility located in Hanoi, Vietnam that provides health care, therapy, education and training to Vietnamese children, young adults and veterans who are suffering from sickness caused by Agent Orange. Their artist couple’s working process was heavily based on co-creation pure human connection between them and the villagers.
Most notable in terms of expression, perhaps, is the wedding photograph over which battle aircrafts were drawn, as if symbolizing innocence daily life threatened by the war.
Long time no see by Caleb Stein & Andrea Orejarena, 3-channel video installation makes the viewers enters a separate world enclosed by three large adjacent screens. A small information board next to the screens explains the concept and process behind the making of the video, while the gentle voice of an oldveteranr reverberates in the still air, the lullaby which he sings lingering on.
Quynh Lam blows life into the exhibition with the installation Khoi nguon cua sac mau (The beginning of color). Plants and flowers create a vibrant space, yet as they wither, so do the colors they bring. Among the works featured at Toa 3, this is the only one that undergoes transformation every day.
Nguyen Van Duy engages in a dialogue with himself in Day la cau chuyen cua toi day (This is my story), without revealing anything about the context of the conversation “Isn’t it for the better? – At least I have let it go.” “Oh no, Duy! It has only started! You know this too well!” Such are the thoughts each of us may encounter at one point or another in our daily life.
The pop-art inspired character is neither a rabbit nor a human, with its sarcastic yet indifferent tone of voice, leaves one in wonder. Is it someone in the guise of a rabbit? Or a rabbit in the guise of man? Or is it Duy, the artist? And is that the real head (the rabbit head), or just a mask? The character’s identity seems lost amidst the uncertainties, neither vague nor clear, and even, maybe, in pain.
Unlike the other artists, Tristan Jalleh employs only digital images in his three-piece series.
Using the software Apple Motion 5, he combines imagery from nature and the urban environment, with no living human in it. Instead, the human part is taken by the viewer. Tristan’s work, in this sense, embodies our inherent desire (and yet limited capability) for preserving authentic experiences. Photographs and videos have their limitations – they can never fully recreate what one’s ears, eyes, and bodies experience. The distorted reality that Tristan shows questions the viewer’s belief of his own world. Do the memories one keeps proportionately represent the struggles and triumphs of one’s life? Or is it only a distorted version of reality used to fool one’s self?
The variety of expressions, materials and forms featured in Toa 3 seems to be attracting a more diverse audience. Familiar elements such as the dog (as in Appllo and To), flowers (as in The beginning of colours)… help make the exhibition more approachable. No wonder it is so easy to spot kids with their parents enjoying art together these days at VCCA.