‘Paradise Lost’ by Hoàng Thanh Vĩnh Phong (b. 1971) invites us into a world where the familiar is made strange, the mundane mythologised and the symbolic re-arranged. Through the shifting of shape and twisting of material, images and objects from the everyday are taken out of context, heightened with a sense of ambiguity, asking us to look beyond what our first glance has to offer.
Throughout the exhibition, the human presence is dimmed down, or faints away to the background, while inanimate objects are elevated as subjects of study, and become the focus. In one instance (‘The perfect illusion’), we see a sculpture of a male figure with his hands raised, either in a state of despair or revelation; his female counterpart (‘It’s about time’) looks down, contemplatively, at her pregnant belly, or perhaps caught in confusion. Both of their heads are replaced by household items, suggesting the psychological disturbances these characters have found themselves in are caused by the failed promise of the ‘Happily ever after’. In the series ‘The three portraits’, the human body is completely taken over by domestic drudgery. Where once portraits of members of a family would stand, we now find life-size paintings of single mattresses; not a single trait in their appearance indicates a relationship. Hovering over this lost paradise, lurking from one corner to another, are images of stars and an eagle – both historically reinvented and used as religious and ideological symbols of power and authority – reinforcing their symbolic significance as icons of social meaning.
Together, these images, objects and characters form a playful but sinister spillage into a world where humans seem to have been paralysed by the mundanity of the everyday. Their psychological and physical selves are simultaneously infected by the false hopes and aspirations they once desired, inevitably trapping them into the religious and ideological conditions to which they were born, perhaps too afraid to seek alternative. Here, the fictions become a critique of their lived environment, inviting us to examine the ways we see and understand our own version of reality.
Hoàng Thanh Vĩnh Phong is the second artist to take part in ‘Materialize’, a program initiated by The Factory, co-sponsored by Indochina Arts Partnership. This program aims to provide exhibition opportunities for Vietnamese artists, living in Vietnam, who have had little chance to create exhibitions of their art. This program is open for application to artists born and currently living in Vietnam and over the age of 25. The next round of applications will be sought in December 2017.