Zerostation is a Saigon-based arts organisation that aims to connect Vietnamese and international art practitioners. It regularly holds exhibitions of contemporary art, which is not yet a popular form of art in Vietnam. The current show by Truong Thien is called ‘Plastic Bags’.
For those of us for who the words ‘plastic bag’ mean disposable carrier bag, the title suggested environmental commentary. Not the case. Too bad – in a city that generates about 4000 tons of waste daily. The exhibits are neat rows of newly purchased plastic pouches, some with the price sticker on, containing mementoes, small objects, found or saved by-products of daily life consumption. The artist has been collecting things since 2009, adding small hand-written notes and organising them in clear zip-lock bags.
The curator and founder of Zerostation, Nguyen Nhu Huy, relishes in the possible interchange of meanings (of the objects and/or of the artist’s notes), and is interested in the confusion that conflicting meanings can lead to, a dislocation that according to him is still a novelty in Vietnamese contemporary art (and one must bear in mind that Surrealism never really set foot in Vietnam).
While one may cogitate on the individual and/or interrelated meanings of the various words and objects attached to the exhibition walls, one might look at the show differently and take in the bigger picture. The ‘Plastic Bags’ are an example of a different purpose of art practice: archiving. This collection is not a contrived attempt to play with binaries. The artist is doing some very basic hoarding, a common practice for many artists. You might call hoarding the practice keeping a database of inspiration. It’s not a new thing, and neither is the concept of creating art archives. Both activities go well together.
Truong Thien’s artwork is a union of text and object, not to engage the viewer into multilayered readings, but because this compendium is, in fact, a 3D sketchbook. Artists’ sketchbooks are collections of ideas that occur at random moments in life. Most people will be familiar with images of Leonardo’s sketchbooks, brimming with drawings, annotations and personal comments. the artist here is doing the same, collecting ideas to give them more thought and form at a later stage. The original intention was not to exhibit each plastic bag as a finished artwork, but the growth of the archive led to it’s becoming a coherent artwork. The final outcome now open to the public is a by-product of the process of thinking about art and acquiring sources of inspiration. The selection and presentation of the material is just an original way of illustrating that process.
At this point, the ‘sketches’ take on the role of finished pieces. The uniform aesthetic of the glossy wrap allows us to see each anecdotal souvenir as a stand-alone entity. There is no no desire to fragment, and no need for meta narratives. This ensemble is a sculptural umbrella of real-life snapshots. Amusing, sloppy and arbitrary snapshots of the artist’s observations of the world around him.
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