‘Within / Between / Beneath / Upon’ focuses on the art of sculpture by three internationally acclaimed Vietnamese artists Lê Hiền Minh, Richard Streitmatter-Trần and Thảo Nguyên Phan (with a special display dedicated to the late Modernist sculptor Điềm Phùng Thị). Coming from diverse media backgrounds (Hiền Minh originally in lacquer, Richard in new media and Thảo Nguyên in painting), each of these artists has gone on to experiment with varying methods and materials, committed to reflecting the perspectives of their local contexts, evident in their subject matters and materials with which they work.
‘Within’, ‘between’, ‘beneath’, ‘upon’ are concepts of place and time that not only tell us where something or someone is located, but also influences the direction of our gaze. Thus, the gallery space of this exhibition, and the accompanying display strategies of the selected artwork, have been designed to enhance our local audience experience, to further expand their understanding of sculpture today.
In Vietnam, contemporary art is not taught within its university curricula. Sculpture is thus generally still associated with religious statues in temples and pagodas (a form of folk art that is deeply integrated into the spiritual life of local Vietnamese people); as grand political monuments that are socialist realist in style, that continue to be erected throughout the country as reminders of power and control; or as outdoor decoration whereby ‘form’ precedes any purpose or content, and is often a replication of an ‘international’ style (with rarely an acknowledgment or intention). These examples recall sculptural forms where composition, style, shape, material and colour are of primary concern, when art was approached classically and formally, and not considered a cross-disciplinary, conceptually-driven, comparative practice.
This exhibition thus investigates influence — be it personal histories (of family and travel), collective legacies (found in architectural design and religious monuments), or interdisciplinary reciprocity (of methodology and knowledge from different disciplines) — aspiring to show how Lê Hiền Minh, Richard Streitmatter-Trần and Thảo Nguyên Phan understand and enrich the practice, meaning and value of sculpture today.
In this exhibition, sculptural installations are elevated to emphasize the distance of social inequality; some lie closely to the floor to accentuate the weight of history; while others invite us to look intimately into the layers of materials and forms. Lê Hiền Minh playfully challenges our collective understanding of monumentality and femininity, mounting larger-than-life structures in Dó paper, where magnificent figures of goddesses from multiple indigenous beliefs are amalgamated with home appliances – provoking, while also acknowledging, the strength of women in their seeming invisibility. Inspired by different periods of art history, techniques and cultures, Richard Streitmatter-Trần assembles industrial and ephemeral materials (such as steel, concrete, rice paper and moss) into hybridized forms that float, lie still or hang in the balance between the elements – defying the assumption of permanence in materiality and its determination of an artwork’s final form and meaning. Thảo Nguyên Phan’s preoccupation with historical artefacts and various folk tales invites the inclusion of work by the late renowned Vietnamese modernist artist Điềm Phùng Thị, whose unique geometric stone sculptures and fabric collages inspire Thảo Nguyên to create her own response (of wood, lacquer and paint), continuing to re-narrate and employ the complex and often contested oral and recorded history of Vietnam.
Borrowed things, others found
Dislocated narratives, others joined
Covered surfaces, others laid bare.
Recognizable forms, others defamiliarized
Man-made shapes, others crafted by nature
Traditional materials, others unconventional
* The Factory would like to extend special thanks to Mr Phan Đình Hối for his generous lending of artwork by Điềm Phùng Thị for this exhibition.