Contemporary Art Exhibition “Portrait of the Mattress”

Contemporary Art Exhibition “Portrait of the Mattress”

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Opening: Wed 02 Dec 2020, 05 pm
Exhibition: 03 – 17 Dec 2020, 09 am – 12 pm and 01:30 pm – 05 pm
VICAS Art Studio
32 Hao Nam Street, Dong Da District, Hanoi

From VICAS Art Studio:

17 mattresses (out of 19 works in total), are the main works that make up the “Portrait of the Mattress” exhibition.

Contemporary of this exhibition can be seen in two points below.

1. In fine art (considering modern art and before that), when artworks are created and perceived, first come the rules of perspective, then come the prejudices about the materials of work, for example, iron and steel must be coarse and hard while silk is soft and shiny. But contemporary art has changed that, making it like a visual game: many works made of steel are now seen as soft as of rubber. The mattresses of Hoang Thanh Vinh Phong were also made in that way: To the naked eye, they are soft mattresses seen in everyday life but in fact, they are sculptures made from wooden planks that were lacquered with the very size of a regular mattress. Technically, that practice requires a lot of meticulousness and an extremely high artistic level of the artist.

2. More importantly, there is something hidden inside the mattresses that the artist wants to share. Imagine what story a mattress (each mattress was numbered, without its own name) would tell if it could speak? They are different human statuses from different social classes, they show the ups and downs of the artist himself or maybe the story of others in his family. Some mattresses are brand new and flashy while some are old and worn. Some bear the colors of soldiers while some are painted with specific images of a given event. Some mattresses are even non-figurative. Who was lying on those mattresses? Are they dead or still alive? What are their social statuses?… That is the question that the artist wishes viewers to feel, reflect, imagine and answer themselves.

Dr. Bui Quang Thang
VICAS Art Studio

The fragments, the questions, and the hyphens between.

Watching Mattress Portrait, I see a combination of nostalgia and criticism, of retention and mockery, of optimism and melancholy,… before what seesm to be the ultimate truth and inviolable sacredness. It evokes so broad a field of association, from the use of material to intertextual notion, from the meticulous lacquer storytelling, to even the denial of the story itself.

It reminds me of Procuste’s bed. Which is a classic notion from Greek mythology, telling the story of a robber Procuste, specialized in capturing people to fit a specific existing bed. If anyone had longer bodyparts that surpassed the bed, they would have been chopped off. If anyone had been shorter than the bed, they would have been stretched out. So that they would fit the bed. According to Dictionair des symbols (or The Dictionary of Symbols) by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbran:

This is the state of an ideal degenerated into trendism. A symbol of the moral and intellectual dictatorship of those who only tolerate actions and judgements of others on the condition that they are suitable in accordance with their own criteria. Procuste is the symbol of all oligopolistic regimes, whethere it was of a man, or an organization.

By combining both conceptual art and skepticism, Hoang Thanh Vinh Phong seems to want to rewrite history and reflect on images that have become so familiar, and the mattress, the bed are images like that. He started from the concept: Everyone wants to be born on a colorful mattress and die on a soft and gentle one. Maybe this concept share some common grounds with the bed in Dictionaire des symbols:

A symbol of regeneration, rebirth in dreams and in love; yet also the place of death.

Vinh Phong shared that these works belong to 1000 mattress portraits project, which he would develop in the long term. Setting a fixed viewpoint on one subject or problem is the solution most dedicated authors have applied in many fields. For example: the great poet Nguyen Trai (1380-1442) wrote 50 Self-praised (“Tu than”) poems, over 60 Bao kinh canh gioi works; or the artist Hokusai (170-1849) had a hundred painting about Mount. Fuji, called Fugaku hyakkei (富嶽百景: Phú nhạc bách cảnh/ One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji). Why would they have done it? Because this is an effective way to transcend the ideas, the pereceptives that the authors are embracing. Vinh Phong believes firmly, that each human life will be associated with each mattress’s persona, or in other words, the mattress is the mirror reflecting its owner’s existential situation. From this concept, to do 100, or 1000 works are all possible, because everyone is different, and the remaining problem bares limit in the level of elaboration and creativity.

Applying his father’s carpentry techniques, his mother’s tailor skills in patterned fabric, and his own skills in using lacquer, Vinh Phong has created lifelike mattresses, that seemed almost used. There lied an entire history, stretched from the royal taste of Hue Imperial Palace to the living conditions of colonial times, from the city life to the urban life in the suburbs. In the old Vietnamese family structure, mats were more of a familiar sight than mattresses, but after coming contact with the Western culture, then the more recently household conditions such as air conditioning, obesity, now mattresses are widely present and used. Vinh Phong’s Mattress Portrait represent fragments of the era, the questions of the past, and also the hyphens connected to the future. It is both joyous, peaceful while it is miserable and sad. It exudes with superficiality, solidity and solemnity, yet still seems so soft and crumpled. All indirectly evoke in habitual images in the lifestyle of each mattress owner, expressing the impermanence of one’s whole life.

When war broke out most vigorious in Quang Tri, Vinh Phong and his family had to evacuate to the south, changed their careers and reestablished other facilities. All that tremours, the haunts from the past, the fragile, anxious, frustrated images of the present, are all visible through the mattress where we lie down and drift to sleep, where we will dream good dreams and of course bad ones. Vinh Phong chose Hoi An to start his career; Hoi An with its the ethereal, virtual charms of a sub-urban area which had been globalized centuries ago, Hoi An where just bridged the connection between the East and West, Hoi An whose legacy remains only in one’s recollection,… all of them went into the Mattress Portrait. Sometimes it is so ingenious and extreme that sink us into the past, forcing us to dialogue… in situations where truth swirls with lies.

No need to follow the signature splendor and flamboyant characteristics of lacquer on surface, Hoang Thanh Vinh Phong chose meticulousness and moderation, condensation and coherence. This is a journey through and out from raw materials, texture, to the story development, to expressional techniques. It is entirely fair to say, in terms of lacquer, with Mattress Portraits, Vinh Phong has owned the sky, for making a pioneered breakthrough.

The series Mattress Portraits by Vinh Phong also reminds us of the extreme critique paitings by Le Quang Ha, the black painting by Nguyen Thai Tuan, the mockery parody by Nguyen Manh Hung. And a few others. Although they differ in concepts and expressions, but the spirit of critique, skepticism and mockery have found their common grouns and together bring interesting topics. They all make their original appearance of their time. And if one should put them with many Chinese expressional artists, they would have told a more honest and sincere story.

La hán room, 21/11/2020
Lý Đợi

Communication partner: Hanoi Grapevine
Free entrance.

Follow updates on event’s page.

VICAS Art Studio
32 Hao Nam Street, Dong Da District, Hanoi
Tel: 091 601 19 80
[email protected]


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