‘Flat Sunlight’ is an exhibition that attempts to change our perception and relationship to the natural world we intrinsically rely and belong. Lena Bui asks us to think deeper of our spiritual and physical understanding of what is good and bad, useful and useless, of what is assumed natural by marketable standards versus what is natural in nature, in order to reveal the social impact of such attitude on producers and consumers.
For Bui, after half a year undertaking field research (with thanks to the Zoonotic team at the Oxford Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City), living and observing traditional farming life in rural Vietnam, she is wary of Globalization and the effect this is having not only on the quality of the food we eat, but also its disruption of traditional farming communities where previously livestock were reared as important elements of an integrated family unit. In this exhibition she imaginatively alludes to sunlight, an energy all living things are fueled, but here it is as if light is constant, without a night and day, and thus the realm of the fake may appear to reign supreme. Thus Bui moves methodically like an earnest botanist cum ethnographer, akin to generations of artists before her who refer to the techniques of science: such as Joseph Banks who accompanied Captain Cook in his journey in the 1700s, documenting flora and fauna, as they ‘discovered’ the land of Brazil, Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand; or the work of contemporary artists such as Amar Kanwar, Superflex or Kader Attia whose films and installations all employ the mechanisms of ethnography, studying cause and affect.
In Bui’s ‘Vegetable Diary’, she documents various response (via drawing and interview) to taste and shape dependent on the source of where these vegetables come from. In ‘Carefree Grasses’, a live collection of plants typically understood today as weeds are remembered as medicinal, ‘planted’ inside the exhibition space, replete with Vietnamese botanical texts. In ‘Mandala of Proliferation’ and ‘Sunsets and Spillages’, Bui provides a window onto the landscape of ‘flat sunlight’ where a plastic paradise floats in a layer of glitter and resin, multiplying and forming colonies, resembling bacteria on a petri dish, like artificial land strips on the sea or satellites floating into space. These artificial organisms proliferate and expand, bubbling like a rash or an ulcer, as if bursting the seam of the cyclic order that contains them.