For over ten years, my artwork has been created using one material, Vietnamese traditional handmade “Do” paper. For more than a decade, I have used this paper to create sculptural installations (which is a departure from the traditional use of “Do” paper in Vietnamese art). Traditionally, “Do” paper is used in the creation of “Dong Ho” paintings, a type of wood cut print. My artwork is a challenge this Vietnamese art making tradition. This is a significant innovation as it offers a new way forward for “Do” paper as art making material. As the traditional use of “Do” paper becomes a relic of the past, we must in order to preserve the tradition of “Do” paper making, find new uses and methods for utilizing this material.
Impermanence and repetition is a theme that can be found through out my overall body of work, while each individual work has its own subject matter, reflecting my thoughts at a given moment. I believe impermanence is a natural law. Nature changes form as a rule. I attempt to embrace this natural law in a few ways. One is though my choice of material. “Do” paper comes from the bark of a tree and is vulnerable to natural changes such as mold, humidity, etc. In fact, long after I have completed a piece of work, this material will continue to transform. Another is through my art making process. As I am working on a piece I will expose it to various elements of nature, sometimes for long periods of time. This allows me to both remove my own hand from the work, and to engage nature as an art-making partner. My works are created together with nature and in the end it is nature alone that will decide their fate.
Together with impermanence, repetition is an important part of my art making process. Repetition appears in my work in two ways. First is in the material. For more than 10 years I have used the same material, “Do” paper, in every piece I've created. Repeating this material creates a continuity throughout my overall body of work. However, depending on the treatment that is applied, each piece takes on a different appearance. For example, one piece may look like cement, while another looks like rusted metal. However, it is never my intention to achieve in any specific look. The outcome is a dialog between my artistic choices and the influence of natural forces (such as rain) on the material.
Secondly, all of my work, to varying degrees, is made up of multiples of a single form, sometimes with as many as one thousand multiplied objects making up the whole. For example, my work “Birds” incorporates about 700 versions of the same sculptural form. Because my works are hand made, this repetition has certain implications. The repetition, while similar to a factory process in method, amplifies the unique qualities of the handmade. We observe the incalculable differences between each copy, and the variation between them become as important as the similarity. This kind of repetition can be found throughout nature. For example, a field of grass is made up of multiple blades, each slightly different than the next. Repeating a form in abundance takes a tremendous amount of patience as well as time and for me is a form of meditation.
While impermanence and repetition are a comprehensive theme found throughout my practice, each individual piece has its own concept which reflects my thoughts or observations at a given time. For example, “Dictionaries” is a commemorative work, marking the 10th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. Making this work slowly over the course of two years was my way of confronting feelings related to my Dad’s death (many of which I had avoided for years). “Dictionaries” reflects my desire to communicate with my Dad and also to accept his absence. Another example, “Balls” has its own unique starting point. Here, I question the traditional roles of Vietnamese woman in society and whether they are still culturally relevant. “Balls” questions today’s feminism as it relates to the long-established societal roles of Vietnamese women.
After more than a decade using “Do” paper to create art, I will continue forward with this material exploration. Working with “Do” paper offers me a way to; meet my material needs, engage with my culture, and collaborate with nature, equally. This continues to be an exciting material for me to explore and I am interested in developing my relationship with it even further.