The new Factory Contemporary Arts Centre in Ho Chi Minh City holds exhibition organised by Oxford Clinical Research Unit, Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnamese artist Lena Bui has been collaborating with the Oxford Clinical Research Unit for years to develop work that explores the effects of globalisation on human life and the fields of medicine, nutrition and farming. Her latest solo exhibition is the result of her research into the traditional farming life of rural Vietnam.
“Flat Sunlight” runs until 24 November 2016 at The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre in Ho Chi Minh City, an independent art space launched in March 2016 that creates and hosts interdisciplinary contemporary art and cultural activities with a programme of exhibitions, workshops, live arts, talks and screenings. The Factory opened with “Technophobe”, a group exhibition of multimedia art, and held another exhibition this summer of Bui Cong Khanh‘s work, Dislocate, which is now on show at the Singapore Biennale and has been recently shortlisted for the 11th Benesse Prize.
The “Flat Sunlight” exhibition showcases the body of work that resulted from Vietnamese emerging artist Lena Bui‘s (b. 1985) field research into traditional farming life in rural Vietnam, undertaken with the Zoonotic team at the Oxford Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City. Bui held a residency supported by the Wellcome Trust at the Unit in 2014, producing work that explored the relationship between humans and animals. The Zoonotic team studies zoonoses, or infectious diseases of animals (usually vertebrates) that can naturally be transmitted to humans.
As The Factory writes in the press release for the show,
“Flat Sunlight” is an exhibition that attempts to change our perception and relationship to the natural world we intrinsically rely and belong. Lena Bui asks us to think deeper of our spiritual and physical understanding of what is good and bad, useful and useless, of what is assumed natural by marketable standards versus what is natural in nature, in order to reveal the social impact of such attitude on producers and consumers.
Bui questions the effects of globalisation on our daily life, and especially on the quality of the food we eat, as well as the disruption of traditional farming communities, whose livelihood previously depended on rearing livestock as an important element of an integrated family unit.
In the exhibition, Bui uses the metaphor of sunlight as a constant that creates a fake environment: light is always shining, without a difference between light and day. Bui goes about her researche like a botanist and an ethnographer, documenting the flora and the fauna and the lives of her observed communities.
Through film, installation and drawing, as well as an interactive science corner curated by Dr Mary Chambers and the Oxford Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) Public Engagement team, the artist brings her findings to the public realm, engaging visitors into her explorations of contemporary realities that are quickly becoming endangered or subject to deep transformations due to the effects of globalisation and uncontrolled development.
In the Vegetable Diary, a collaboration with artist Nguyen Quoc Dung (b. 1983), Bui documents through drawing and interview the various responses to taste and shape of vegetables, dependent on their source or origin. The exhibition booklet includes a conversation between the two artists, with Bui, who grew up in the city, asking questions to Nguyen, who grew up in the countryside in a farming family in Dak Lak.
The exhibition booklet also includes two texts written by Dr Ngo Thi Hoa, a molecular microbiologist and Head of the Zoonoses group at Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Vietnam (OUCRU). Her research interests include understanding the impact of the use of antimicrobial agents in agriculture to public health, the transmission of patogens from animals to humans, or ‘zoonotic transmission’, and the prevention of this transmission and infection. Dr Ngo comments on Bui’s film in the exhibition, saying that it brings back memories of her childhood growing up in the Mekong Delta, where her family, as other members of the rural community, lived in close contact with pigs and other animals.
The film Flat Sunlight gives a glimpse of the everyday life of a Vietnamese livestock farmer, through the eyes of a young girl – his niece. The work shows the care and labour involved in rearing animals such as pigs and ducks, where antibiotic resistance is on the rise, as well as the hard work of farmers that strive to cater to the commercial market, which places increased value on the visual appearance of livestock rather than its quality and health. In the booklet, Bui introduces Dr Ngo’s essay on the transmission of animal microbes to humans, writing:
The start of this body of work was when I was invited to work with the Zoonoses group at OUCRU, as the engagement part of their research into antibiotic usage in livestock and poultry farming in the Mekong delta. Because antibiotics boost the growth of animals, it is widely used in farming, albeit without proper understanding and with serious long-term consequences, the top being the rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). My exhibition does not illustrate this particular problem per se, but it is an important starting point that I often return to during the formation of the works. I find the mechanism of AMR a reflection of the intricate way that we are tied in to our environment—constantly exchanging and impacting each other, from microbes to human beings.
On show is also a live collection of plants that are considered today as weeds, but remembered as medicinal. Carefree Grasses is ‘planted’ inside the exhibition space, accompanied by Vietnamese botanical texts.
Mandala of Proliferation and Sunsets and Spillages provide a view of the landscape of ‘flat sunlight’. Plastic floats in a layer of glitter and resin, resembling bacteria. The artificial organisms created in these works proliferate and expand, as Zoe Butt writes in the press release, “bubbling like a rash or an ulcer, as if bursting the seam of the cyclic order that contains them”. The surreal world that appears in these colourful representations is further ignited in a text written by San Art‘s General Manager Nguyen Bich Tra in the exhibition booklet, a story about ‘mutant’ energy rabbits, creatures that could very well exist in a not-so-distant future as they appear in the imagination of the writer.
Quoted in the exhibition introduction, Bui says of “Flat Sunlight”:
This exhibition examines the theme of food and our ready consumption of its diversity (both real and artificial), examining how human’s interconnected relationship with nature has, in the past, provided both spiritual and medical aid. Due to this unique opportunity to work with people from different disciplines I hope to bring a wide range of perspectives regarding our man-made and natural world into the show, to enable discussion surrounding tradition and development, consumption and the need for moderation, in order to build a healthier environment.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
- On Sunsets, Horticulture and Human Relationships: Hong Kong artist Trevor Yeung – in conversation – November 2016 – Hong Kong artist talks his metaphors for the relationship between people in his artistic creation
- Life, Guns, Death and Reincarnation: Vietnam’s art collective The Propeller Group – artist profile – November 2016 – Art Radar profiles the art collective on the occasion of their exhibition at MCA Chicago
- Under the veil: tales of love, loss and memory by Vietnamese photographer Phan Quang – July 2016 – Phan Quang uses photography, props, real life characters and stories to stage images that speak of socio-political history as well as personal stories of life, love and loss in Vietnam
- Mien Meo Mieng: Vietnamese contemporary art in Sweden – in pictures – July 2015 – Bildmuseet at Umeå University holds most comprehensive contemporary Vietnamese art exhibition in Sweden to date
- Living ‘day by day’ between Cambodia and Vietnam: Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai – interview – April 2015 – Art Radar caught up with Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2015 finalist to hear about her latest project in the Vietnamese migrant communities in Cambodia and Vietnam
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