HA NOI — Like many Vietnamese people, British artist and Ha Noi expat Simon Rolph has built a shrine to honour the spirits of his ancestors.
He believes that by burning elaborate temple papers he can open a channel of communication with the deceased.
The paraphernalia of Buddhist ritual play a crucial part in his art, and his latest exhibition in the Capital’s Galleria da Gino uses sacred temple papers to depict the passing of the ages.
His exhibition, Solutions to Layout Problems merges contrasting images and sequences to create the sense of history being contracted, or as he puts it, to illustrate the notion of change through time.
Incorporating more of the multi-media montages that have become his trademark, Rolph deftly juggles the contrasts, contradictions and dichotomies he sees in the world around him.
The 12 works of art on display are fashioned from handmade papers interwoven with photocopied texts and manuscripts that date back 50 years.
Take Sarah has a Problem for example; a tableau in which we see a photo of a top European statesman in the 1950s spliced with the image of a young girl in the 1980s, her face shining with innocence as she scrutinises the pages of an English text book.
"Layers of history are superimposed in rigid layouts," Rolph says. "I just wanted to tickle the viewers with the senses of time, image and colour."
Each layer of his paintings records a milestone of modern history. The surface layers cover more recent history, and the layers beneath take the viewer further back in time.
The top layer of most of the pieces is a naked female figure, or a "signature of 2002" as he calls it.
One of his paintings includes a yellow-skinned copy of the former Doi Moi or New Life newspaper. When Rolph stumbled across the 1970s edition in a back street book shop it provided him with major inspiration for his exhibition.
He recognised it as an important piece of Vietnamese history and he knew he had to use it. However, it took him two years to get the idea off the ground.
Trawling through the city’s dusty second hand book shops, he hauled up an extensive selection of magazines, books and papers in German, Dutch, Russian and English.
Every piece he used had its own quirky, individual appeal. One of the books captured his imagination with the fact the original owner had signed it and written the date of purchase inside the front cover.
"It is all about Viet Nam – a country moving fast but still always aware of its history," he said.
Rolph thinks this is his best exhibition yet and hopes it will touch both Vietnamese and expats alike.
His talents don’t end here; Rolph is also the lead singer and songwriter for a six piece Ha Noi based rock band, BandUnit33. They’ve released an album, Nothing Comes From Nothing that Rolph wrote with fellow band member Jake Brown.
Asked about his belief in burning temple offerings, he giggles, "it makes me feel good."
Solutions to Layout Problems is showing at the Galleria da Gino, 11b Dien Bien Phu Street, Ha Noi until February 16, when it will move to Rome. — VNS
Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency