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Blurring the borderlines (July 14, 2004)

The earlier work Borderline encapsulates colour, stimulates senses.
VietNamNet – “Not every image of blues sky brings airy feelings,” according to contemporary artists, Pham Ngoc Duong, and his latest installation conjures emotions as thinned and chilled as the air up there.

Ryllega, a relatively new gallery run by the British Council, is a small boxy space ideal for showing small installations. For the opening of his latest effort, artist Pham Ngoc Duong made no mistakes in the placement of his work. Duong, a 2001 graduate of the Hanoi Fine Arts University has exhibited works for the last eight years, winning a prospect prize at the Asia Vision contest.

Duong is acclaimed for his use of exuberant colours in both his installation and performance pieces. Through vivid displays, he creates complex environments for viewers to experience. His pieces encapsulate the viewer in colour, patterns and textures, thereby affecting each of the senses.

Viewed from the street, Blue Sky is iconic of the artist’s previous ventures. His tendency is towards incorporating entire rooms to set the outer limits of his work, thereby offers a sense of entrapment. His human figures are always grounded, held down by force other than their own. And so they are in Blue Sky.

Simply the work is set against a backdrop of wispy white clouds shot against that impenetrably deep blue of the sky. The ceiling kept white like pure cloud, while the floor offers an ice age of navy blue. Adrift on this cold expanse, three human figures lie. A man and a woman flank a child, bound up in sheets of sky, with only their shoes to show.

There they lay in state, with everything for the sky, bound to the sky’s wispy depths, only to remain grounded by their material possessions. Was Duong trying to suggest something about the duality of man? His limitless potential vs. his remarkable ability to tie himself down to footwear?

“The figures are not free, but bound. The freedom of the sky they don’t have.” The artist said of his intentions. “They are in a space without the ability to express themselves; they do not have the words or the experience. They are without the knowledge of how to do that”

The message blurred the borderlines he set in previous outings. Before he had used rooms to set the edges, such as in offering of doors placed in harsh settings: “When things are black, open the nearest door, then beautiful and bright things appear.” With Blue Sky, the realm is indefinable.

The sky sets an unlimited quantity that is worked in juxtaposition against our own human limitations of knowledge and experience.

Blue Sky enhances the themes involving human figures. His previous efforts, such as Borderline, which confined pseudo butterflies in a room, have invoked similar feelings of entrapment. In this work, the artist makes a vocal comment about his own inability to perform precisely the action he has just performed. A little confusing, but then perhaps that was intended, as we fail to fully comprehend these blurred borderlines.

In the fledgling local contemporary art scene, there is a swath of top notch work being done, but it’s meaning can be so often lost in the cultural quagmire, as artists try to embrace a medium that… well let us just remember who developed installation art, and what a bunch of hoopla it usually is.

Yet Duong’s work is well designed and laid out, even if his message is a dichotomy in itself. Keep an eye out for his future efforts. As one of four Vietnamese artists invited to take up a residency in the CAVE studio in Brooklyn, New York, on a Ford Foundation-funded "Vietnamese artist-in-residency programme", Duong’s future is definitely looking bright.

Also joining the CAVE placement ranks are Dinh Cong Dat, Ly Hoang Ly, and Nguyen Thi Chau Giang, contemporaries also selected by CAVE members, the Asia Society and the Washington Project For the Arts. As resident artists, they will participate in open studio exhibitions scheduled to coincide with CAVE Gallery shows, and to unveil the artworks created during each Vietnamese artists residency. Duong’s CAVE residency is from Jan 10 to March 31, 2005.

Ryllega, is an experimental contemporary art gallery. Located behind the Opera House at 1A Trang Tien, downtown Hanoi. Entry is free, and as works are observed from outside on the footpath remember to bring an umbrella.

CAVE Gallery has gained prestige in the US and around the world since it was founded in 1996. Its mission: to attract, provoke and support generative exploration, confrontation and collaboration among artists and audiences from diverse disciplines and cultures.

Reprinted from VietNamNet


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