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Exhibition explores rural, urban culture (May 09, 2005)

Dam Dang Lai's wood and metal pieces are displayed at Ngo Quyen Gallery.
Award-winning Vietnamese sculptor Dam Dang Lai's first solo exhibition in his native country, following several successful shows in his current home of Japan, is fittingly titled 1-2-3-4-5, a name which represents the progression of Lai's work over the last five years and also evokes the themes of progression and transiency which his sculptures express.

The exhibition comprises wood and metal-based sculptures which reveal influences both from Japan and Lai's native province of Dac Lac.

Although Lai is ethnic Viet, the culture of his province's E De and Gia Rai ethnic minorities is clearly manifested in his work.

The sculptures are characterised by simple, abstract interpretations of traditional design styles. Several pieces, for example, pay homage to the funeral sculptures used in Dac Lac's minority cultures, distilling the character of these artefacts into carvings which symbolise, rather than overtly depict, their subjects.

In appropriating artefacts usually reserved for purely ritualistic purposes for aesthetic ends, Lai questions the accepted boundaries between these domains.

Similarly, The Faces - a series of masks welded into hoe-blades - adopts objects which were previously of only practical significance, and relocates them in an aesthetic context, challenging the traditional separation of art and everyday life.

The presence of these outmoded agricultural relics also reminds the viewer of the fragility and transiency of cultural traditions, a theme which is more obviously expressed in Red Dream, a group of angular, unadorned metal sculptures which reflect the influence of Japan on Lai's work.

Evoking the relentless fluidity and progression of the Japanese metropolitan lifestyle, the pieces provide an unsettling contrast to the Vietnam-inspired sculptures, highlighting the cultural chasm between the two nations.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Arrangement of Trees, a set of large wooden carvings which combine African and South American influences with Lai's unique interpretations of E De textile patterns.

The artist's playful questioning of accepted roles is again evident here: visitors can actually walk through the sculpture, thereby replacing the traditional role of viewer with that of interactive participant.

The exhibition may reveal the conflict between rural and urban, rich and poor, that Lai's dual existence must engender, but it also transcends this opposition, by expressing commonalities across cultures.

Indeed just as the pieces challenge the accepted boundaries between art, ritual and work, and the distinction of creator and viewer, they also attack the assumption that "developed" and "developing" societies can be clearly demarcated.

Both urban Japanese and rural Vietnamese society are shown to face the same universal challenge: to accept and understand the inherently transient, intangible nature of human life.

1-2-3-4-5 is at the 16 Ngo Quyen Street Gallery, Hanoi, until May 13.

Reprinted from VietNamNet


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