In the work of Oanh Phi Phi, lacquer is a material of not only physical, but also visceral density.
In ‘Interface’ we present two of her major pictorial installations – Specula, an immersive lacquered tunnel akin to stepping in to a glowing womb; and Palimpsest, which personifies tools of producing images (where projections magnifying glass paintings recall the lens structure of a human eye). What is most dazzling about these two ‘paintings as sculptures’ in this exhibition is the suggestion that these artworks are analogous to organs of a body, indeed their ‘shape’, their ‘skin’, their ‘interface’ infers protection, purpose and ultimately, an identity.
Just as a human organ is constantly processing substance, similarly these sculptural installations are also constantly processing its environment. With Specula the viewer is encouraged to tread lightly on its glass floor to get closer to its lacquered shimmering walls and ceiling; while with Palimpsest the viewer may peer closer at the glass ‘microscopic’ slides (glass paintings) that small projectors then magnify large on the adjacent wall.
The art of Oanh Phi Phi is primarily a relationship between sơn mài (lacquer), light and movement. Thus an audience is required, for according to the artist, in order for the artwork to be truly activated, it is the viewer’s presence (thus causing shadows and interruptions with light) that lends a constantly changing reality to the colors that refract from its layered lacquer depths.
Oanh Phi Phi was trained as an oil painter. She fell in awe with lacquer as a student and has, over the past 15 years, developed an internationally acclaimed artistic practice that bemoans the historical and theoretical deferral of ‘lacquer’ to the discipline of painting; while also insisting arguments of lacquer as ‘craft’ are in need of re-assessment.
‘I try to create work that proposes to break apart those categories so eventually, we might be able to say that lacquer is its own genre, that it has something to say about how images are formed and thus has grounds to exist beyond current debated discipline. I relate to lacquer as a medium of ‘newness’, a material with deep haptic qualities, in synergy with the contemporary digital world of multiple dimension and sensorial light refractions’.
Whilst critically respectful of the history of lacquer, which remains a celebrated national art form in Vietnam today, Oanh Phi Phi seeks to challenge the assumption of form, capacity and definition of this medium, preferring to argue its immersive (as opposed to optical /decorative) powers.
‘Interface’ is the artist’s first solo show in Ho Chi Minh City. This exhibition will be on view until 21 July, 2019.
Associated public programs at The Factory:
Saturday 11 May @ 4pm: Artist Oanh Phi Phi (in conversation with Zoe Butt, Artistic Director of The Factory), in a sharing of motivation and intent with her artistic practice
Saturday 13 July @ 4pm: Curator Dr. Phoebe Scott, National Gallery of Singapore, will present a visual and theoretical history of lacquer, focusing on Vietnam in relation to broader South East Asian lacquer practice.
*Image courtesy of the artist.