2007. Revisited 2017.
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper, Lacquer, Jute Rope, Cement
In 2017, ten years since I first experiment with Worms, I decided to revisit this work again. Worms is the second work of a series about femaleness.
The installation contains a large female sculpture. The form is inspired by the ancient sculpture of Venus of Willendorf and the Pre-Columbian terra-cotta Nayarit style known as Chinesco. In these forms I am looking for iconic physical silhouettes of a woman.
The woman statue in my work is holding a large rope that look like braided hair. This large rope opens up to a massive net that contain tons of braided and non braided hair tied together with strange objects that look like worms. These strange objects that she is holding onto, form some kind massive, unpleasant, dreadful thing. These things are coming out of her body, weighing her down. It is a monstrous baggage that she needs to use all of her weigh to hold on to, and she is determined not to let go. This is her burden.
Obviously the burdens of females are many. But in this work I am talking about one type of burden.
Often femaleness is defined based on biology and woman’s ability to carry and give birth to a child. This understanding of female-ness as it relates to reproductive biology seems common cross cultures. Females will always be subjected to judgment from society based on their biology. If biology defines femaleness then it is every woman’s duty to be a mother. The only way a woman can be liberated from these constraints, is to reject the idea of femaleness as a biological function and instead understand it as a spiritual expression of universal energy. This is woman’s burden.
2004. Revisited 2016.
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper, Glass Jar, Table, Dry Powder Pigment
My first experiment with Balls was in 2OO4. With Balls I’ve started a series of work exploring the female experience.
In 2O16, 12 years later, I revisited the work. The installation now includes a black lacquer table in the style of a Northern altar with a large jar on top overflowing with balls. An altar like this would exist in a typical home, is a place to put an incense holder, which Vietnamese believe house the souls of their ancestors. On top of the table is a large glass jar. It is used to infuse traditional herbs with rice liquor to make herbal spirits. Many older Vietnamese men will have a jar of herbal spirits in their home because it is widely believed to be good for men’s sexual health. There are more than 20 thousands hand-sculpted balls overfill the glass jar onto the floor. I double the amount of balls for 2O16 and change the color from bright red to dark plum.
On the wall across from the table, I hand-painted a large sentence in the propaganda style. It reads NHIỆM VỤ LỚN NHẤT CỦA PHỤ NỮ LÀ SINH RA MỘT ĐỨA CON TRAI. This translates to something like: “Woman’s greatest duty is to produce a son”.
This sentence came from Confucianism. In Confucian, the life of a woman is control by three peoples: her father, her husband, and her son. This idea is understood as a kind of Vietnamese idiom which is a type of propaganda.“Tại gia tòng phụ, xuất giá tòng phu, phu tử tòng tử”. At home, you obey your father, married you obey your husband, husband dead you obey your son. Girls were raised to obey, serve and take care of the man. Confucianism has influence Vietnamese for centuries. Today its influence on the younger generation has lost some of its grip but is still ingrained in the collective mind.
In this work, I question the nature of traditional gender roles in Vietnamese culture.
What does it mean to be female?
What does it mean to be a “modern woman” in Vietnamese society?
And beyond that, how does nature affect our understanding of gender roles?
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper
I consider Dictionaries one of the most difficult works I’ve made to date, both emotionally and technically.
My Dad passed away in 2OO2. His death leaves a big hole in my heart and all I did was trying my best to ignore it for many years. Coming to the 10 years anniversary of his passing, I decide to make an artwork and finally allow myself face his absence and find peace with his passing.
I started by looking for an object that I felt represented my dad. It took me 3 years to choose something that I felt truly represent my dad. In the end i chose a dictionary. I remembered my Dads obsession with reading and collecting books on many different topics. He was to shy to call himself a linguist even though he worked for many years at the Shino Vietnamese language institute. My Dad passionately studied languages through out his life. Because of that We always had large-scale bilingual dictionaries around our house. Whenever I see that type of dictionary, I think of him.
The installation has 1000 objects in the form of a dictionary in which I hand sculpted every single of them. People often ask me: why 1000? 1000 wasn’t a number that I made up along the way. I knew from the beginning that it would be 1000. I chose a very large number because I had a feeling that I would need an intense amount of labor to reach the mental state that i wanted to reach.
I sculpted those objects everyday in the roof of my house for at least a couple hours, and in about 18 months I finished. When I sculpted, the movement of my hand repeated thousands of times. This repetition allow me to focus and train of thoughts to stop running. My mind would go to the state of emptiness. In this emptiness I could allow many emotions to pass through me.
I felt anger
Love and many more emotions pass though me.
So I practice this method for 18 months for 2 hours everyday.
Producing a work of great scale. Succeeding in making this work doesn’t mean I don’t feel sad anymore. But I am no longer afraid of my emotions. I still feel a deep sadness every time I think of my dad. But I understand my sadness, and I accept it.
I accept this big hole in my heart which will never disappear.
Together with the installation Dictionaries, I made a book “Con Lai | Roi Rac” as a companion piece. The book has 18 individual cards. Each card has 2 sides.
One side contains images of my dad belongings or picture of us. Other side contains my writing of my memories of my dad. During the time of creating this book, I didn’t seek for other people memories. I want it to be my memories only, even if it misshapen because of time, but it is purely mine.
Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper, Traditional Korean Bean Powder
I was born in Hanoi and when I was 6 years old I moved to Saigon. This move made a lot of impact in my childhood because the North and the South of Vietnam at that time, and still is, a very different place. They are almost like 2 different countries.
When I was in my early 20s, I moved from Saigon to Cincinnati, again, this move made an extensive impact in my early adult life. The impact from these drastic moves create a feeling of not completely belong to one place. While I’m in Vietnam I don’t really feel like I can fit into the society but then, while I’m in the US, I don’t feel entirely belong there either. I continue make this type of extensive moves throughout the years.
I create this work Birds while I was in Brooklyn New York, feeling like a migration bird carrying a sense of belonging but not belong. In this work, I hand sculpted more than seven hundred objects based on the form of a small bird. Hand scupted from paper pulp in my small apartment in Brooklyn.
This work was created specifically for International Women Biennale in Incheon, South Korea in 2009. I installed them in concentric circles like a Mandala.
The flock of birds is facing outward in a geometric unity.
For me, migration is not a negative thing.
It is a natural thing that birds do.
It is part of their strength.
Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper
I cast my own body with Dó paper and layed it outdoors amongst the grass and trees.
Here it was exposed to many natural elements such as sun, rain…
For 6O days, I witness the transformation of the cast body as It changed. At one point a dog even carried my face away to somewhere.
In the end my body completely disintegrated into the earth.
The body and mind are forever changing. The body is subjected to growth and decline while the mind is constructed and deconstructed. When we die, our bodies will return to the earth and they will return to their basic building blocks such as dirt, water and air. All of which will support other life. This constant state of flux, is how I define impermanence. My artwork, is an extension of myself and a manifestation of an idea. It lives in the material world and is impermanent. My works are made with delicate materials from natural sources. They will naturally transform and eventually return to their basic elemental forms, along with the part of me that exists within it.
2004. Revisited 2017
Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper, Dry Powder Pigment
In 2004, I started working on a piece called Home. At that time, I had lived in the USA for 2 and a half years, and had received my Bachelor Degree in Fine Art. I decided to not stay and work in the US but instead return home to Vietnam. I had been living in the US by myself, for the first time in my life, and made a home for myself in a foreign country. Now I had to leave it behind. I realized that I couldn’t bring most of my possessions back with me to Vietnam. It was at this time I started working on an artwork.
I started by using Dó paper to cast various objects from around my apartment. These objects included my television, table, chairs, pots, bowls, chopsticks, paintbrushes, tubes of paint, handbags, cosmetics, cellphone, books, shoes, etc. For the next 6 months, I cast hundreds of objects. When each cast was done, I placed it outside in an empty yard next to my apt. The cast remained outdoors for months where they were rained on and became buried in snow throughout the fall and early winter. This process transformed the objects cast from my possessions into something new. They took on the appearance of ancient artifacts found in an archeological dig.
Before returning to Vietnam I exhibited them as a farewell to my life in America.
In 2O17, 13 years later, for the Taiwan Annual exhibition, I revisited Home. Due to the expanse of time since the work was created, many of the objects I could no longer recognize. They had become a mystery to me, even though they where once so familiar.
For the exhibition I create a map to accompany the objects. The map reflected the growing disconnect between myself and the objects.
One part of me kept returning to my memories, trying to recall the details. While another part of me slowly excepted the fading of those memories.
The Room is collaboration between my husband Gregory Jewett and myself. It was installed in a space within our home, which we converted into a gallery.
The room was divided into 2 sections by a large white partition wall. When the viewers enter the exhibition, they enter Gregory's side first. On this side of the room is installed a glowing fiberglass bear which is standing facing the partition. The bear is standing on top of an abstract black and white photograph. Installed within the wall directly behind the bear is a chrome sign with the word Tilt illuminated.
On the far side of the partition sits a large square, black lacquer platform, which is situated the middle of the space. On top of the platform rests a chrome "bed". On top of the bed lie two small sculptural objects, one next to the other. These two objects were crafted using Dó paper and pigment and have an organic shape. To the right of the platform are two white curtains suspended inside of white wooden frames. Behind the curtains are two round lights attached to the wall, one slightly smaller than the other.
During the public opening, we closed off the exhibition area with a rope partition, preventing the viewer from entering the space and viewing the work from a close vantage point.
The Room is a recreation and interpretation of a share memory between Gregory and me. Each side of the room represents our individual point of view from within the shared memory. The room is a complex, mysterious place, a dream like aberration, frozen in time. The Room is an expression of two individual points of view concerning a shared moment in time. It was a moment that was simultaneously isolating and unifying, and a moment we never truly shared and will always share.
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper, Jute Rope
Clouds was created in Hanoi, in 2005 and it was initial inspired by the desert cloud of the American South-West. I created this work slowly over the course of two years. During this time, the work evolved in shape, color and texture dramatically due to the particularly high levels of humidity in Hanoi.
For example, mold would grow, spreading through the work. As a reaction to this I would repeatedly spray a diluted bleach solution into the work in order to control it. I also discovered that baby powder kept the work dry and helped to protect it against the humidity. The mold, bleach and baby powder all became part of the aesthetic of the final piece, adding texture, color and influencing the overall form of the work.
This process of allowing nature to modify my work, while at the same time protecting my work against nature is an important part of my making process. Even after I consider a work is finish, natural elements will continue to affect the work in a number of ways.
Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper, Wood
Statues was installed on the 4th floor of the Park Armory Avenue in New York City. The Park Armory was built in 1880 and served as the headquarters and administrative building for the 7th New York Militia Regiment, which was an infantry regiment in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
From 2006, the building became a place for performance and exhibition. The work Statues featured a variety of wooden statues, all of which I covered in Dó paper. The Dó paper gave them a uniform color and cover, like that of an army uniform. When the exhibition finished, I left Statues at the Armory for whoever wanted to take them, thus disbanding the group. In that way the work exists in two forms, first as a group, second as scattered individuals.
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper, Lacquer, Nylon Rope
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper, Dry Powder Pigment
Balls is one of the first sculptural objects that I made with Dó paper. It is also one of the first of my works to be created through a repetition of a single.
Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper, Dry Powder Pigment
Eggs is one of the first sculptural objects that I made with Dó paper. It is also the first of my works to be created through a repetition of a single.