_A black curtain at the entrance of the exhibition space, the curtain is sewed using jute fabric, hand-dyed with dark indigo. These fabrics are woven by Tay women living in Cao Bang province, using a traditional method. Jute fabric weaving is a dying tradition, because it is an uneconomic and time-consuming process that requires skillful hands and organic materials.
_A photograph captures three stones that lie under an ancient banyan tree in Phuong Thong village, which is in the Tien Lu district of the Hung Yen city. During the Japanese occupation of Indochina (1940-1945), The Japanese built the Dai Nam jute factory in this area. It was a part of the compulsory sale of rice to the state and industrial plantation campaigns such as “uproot rice, grow jute,” and resulted in the horrific famine of 1945 that killed 2 million Vietnamese people. For a long time, these stones were used to detach jute fiber for factory use. Nowadays, the villagers no longer grow jute. The stones become a resting place under the banyan tree.
_An document to borrow the stones from the exhibition organizer
I found these stones by chance. I simply thought that I could bring them to the exhibition. However, it was an unsuccessful conversation between me (the artist), the local government, and the local people. Even though I got the approval from the local government, the villagers did not agree to let us borrow the stones for the exhibition. For them, the place where the stones lie is a zone of spiritual beliefs, where the ancient banyan tree, the communal house, and the historic memories locate.
This unexpected turn over provokes thoughts on human impacts on nature, environment and society. It also reveals how the affects of those impacts, seemly invisible, actually are clear and deep.
Curtain made from Indigo dyed jute fabric, silk, hand embroidery, framed document, photograph
Curtain: 310cm x 350cm Photograph: 40cm x 60cm
Uproot Rice, Grow Jute
Site specific installation at Muong museum, Hoa Binh province, Vietnam
On 22 September 1940, the French signed an accord, which granted the Japanese troops the right to occupy Indochina. The occupation of Northern Indochina allowed the Japanese to block China from importing arms and fuel from French Indochina. The Japanese presence in Indochina lasted until the end of World War II. During the occupation, jute supplies from India were interrupted. Jute was used to make sacks as well as gunpowder, a crucial material for the war industry. Looking for new jute supplies, the Japanese authorities forced Vietnamese farmers to uproot rice and grow jute. This was one of the main reason for the horrific famine in North Vietnam 1945, resulting in the deaths of 2 millions people.
The installationUntitled (Heads)is made from locally grown jute plant. The jute plant, a body that is both the cause and witness of a tragic event, is now reincarnated with poetic meaning inside the artwork. I dried the jute stalks, cut them into smaller modules and then manually combined them into a structure. The structure is similar to the shape of a chandelier but is actually inspired by the Ma Mot tree, a ritualistic tree constructed by Thai minorities in Northern Vietnam for religious purposes. On the Ma Mot tree, object such as animal bones and amulets are hung on the tree, each object representing a dead or evil spirit. The purpose of this action is to cure illness.
In a previous installment at San Art,Untitled (Heads)was placed at the entrance of the gallery space. The audience was welcome to touch, play and rotate the piece. At the end of each branch was attached a small bronze head, which was a representational portrait of a farmer that I got to know during my research. The ideal place to install this piece is outdoors or on balconies, where nature can age the piece gradually.
A kidney stone, also known as a renal calculus (from the Latin ren, “kidney” and calculus, “pebble”) is a solid concretion or crystal aggregation formed in the kidneys from dietary minerals in the urine.
This stone stayed in an anonymous Vietnamese man’s body for more than a decade and was the reason for his endless pain. The stone, which had become an inseparable part of him, finally was removed from his body in 2012.
On a random occasion he showed me the picture of the stone, something he treated as precious and fragile. It was unusually large for a kidney stone. I imagined all the pain he had to endure, which filled me up with empathy. However, he seemed to be proud of it. Looking at the picture, for me it was like love at first sight. Suddenly I wanted to encounter the stone in person. I convinced him to send me the stone from his home in Vietnam to my place in America. I thought the stone would not be able to come to America because its origin was suspicious. If I listed it as a “kidney stone” on the declaration form from the Vietnamese post office, the stone would not be able to depart. So we thought of a tactic. He labeled the kidney stone as a “souvenir rock” and displayed it in an ordinary gift box.
The stone, with its new identity as a souvenir, arrived to America in the month of November. While crossing the borders, the stone traveled further than its owner ever had. Once the stone arrived to America, thinking of the stone as a new immigrant, I decided to return it to its true identity. It is no longer a souvenir, but a kidney stone.
Renal Calculus 2012-current. Video Installation. Kidney stone, steel table, glass dome, magnifying glass, framed text, artist book and video