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Within / Between / Beneath / Upon

Artists: Thảo Nguyên Phan, Richard Streitmatter-Trần, Lê Hiền Minh
Curators: Bill NguyễnVân Đỗ
Exhibition dates: 12 March – 6 June 2021

Borrowed things, others found

A stream of bows, originally from Jarai, floating mid-air
A discarded sculpture, found somewhere in Saigon, out of which grows a Bodhi plant
A photo of a Buddha statue, stumbled upon the Internet

Dislocated narratives, others joined 

Portrayals of everyday Vietnam, written in Latin
Questions of female identity and women’s rights, a never-ending fight
Remnants of a past civilization, excavated & made anew

Covered surfaces, others laid bare

Lacquered skin over aged wooden organs, as if erased
Dó paper wrapping cotton, metal & cement, as if protected
Hidden architecture pulled inside out, as if regenerated

Recognizable forms, others defamiliarized

Squares, triangles, circles, rectangles
Dots, curves, waves, lines
Accents, letters, words, statements
And everything in between 

Man-made shapes, others crafted by nature

A mattress, a pedestal, a sink, a roof
The mass-produced – transformed & hybridized,
A hand, a foot, the human body
The organic – dismembered & collaged

Traditional materials, others unconventional

Marble, clay, wood, metal
Durability, density, physicality
Dó paper, rice paper, moss, lacquer
Ephemerality, elementality, intangibility

‘Within / Between / Beneath / Upon’  – side by side, these words set the stage for a group exhibition presenting three new discrete sculptural works by Thảo Nguyên Phan, Lê Hiền Minh and Richard Streitmatter-Trần. Through the investigation of their influences — 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) — this exhibition shines light on how Thảo Nguyên, Hiền Minh and Richard interpret, enrich, understand, and expand the practice, and meaning, of sculpture.

‘Within’, ‘between’, ‘beneath’, ‘upon’ – these concepts of place and time not only tell us where something or someone is located, but also influences the direction of our gaze. Within the context of this exhibition, these terms are used to address the position of an artwork (in relation to others), to unpack not only the relationship amongst the individual parts of a sculpture, but also the connection between such parts and its whole. More specifically, these four propositions act as investigative tools for the audiences to re-view and re-assess the practices of Thảo Nguyên, Hiền Minh and Richard. This exhibition encourages its viewers:

to peel away (the various layers of materials and matters, ‘within’ which the seed of their imagination grows);
to delve into (the relationship ‘between’ the different elements of inspiration that have had impact on their art);
to look beyond (the multitude of forms and styles that build ‘upon’ each other);
and to lay open the ideas and meanings (that lie ‘beneath’ the surface and weight of their work).

How did these artists get here – at this meeting point, this exhibition? What aspects of sculptural tradition do they investigate, examine and rejuvenate through their work? How is their art diversifying the theoretical, conceptual and technical discussion of sculpture today? What do they learn from, (dis)agree with, their ancestors, their daily stimuli or their interdisciplinary influences? Consequently, this exhibition reveals how Thảo Nguyên takes inspiration from the geometric stone sculptures of the Vietnamese modernist artist Điềm Phùng Thị, her broader practice consistently re-narrating oral and archival history and literature; Hiền Minh has grappled with notions of femininity, personal memory and collective consciousness since the beginning of her career, while expanding the possibility of Dó paper as a sculptural medium; and Richard investigates materials such as clay, limestone, wood, rice paper, amongst others, questioning how the nature of each material determines an artwork’s final form and meaning. However diverse in terms of medium, concept and form, these artists will take us behind-the-scenes of their art-making, opening myriad alternative ways for interpreting what sculpture can mean today.

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