This reflection is also available as a zine.
I stopped by the opening reception for Second Sources by Genie Hien Tran at White Bear Center for the Arts. This exhibition is on view April 24-June 16, 2023 at 4971 Long Ave. White Bear Lake, MN 55110.
I was lucky to be present for the artist talk on this body of work, and one of the concepts that stood out to me was the squishiness of memories. Genie Hien Tran talked about a gate at her childhood home in Vietnam, and the struggle to remember its exact form once she discovered there were no existing photographs of it. She consulted with relatives, and there was not a consensus. Throughout the show are different interpretations of the gate, creating a visual through-line for the exhibition.
The installation choices felt precise to the concept of memory. On large collaged works, various imagery comes together in what felt like moments of potential clarity, only to scatter again into smaller component parts. Floor-to-ceiling looser drawings of the gates live next to small reproductions of identification material or historic documents related to the American war in Vietnam.
In the artist talk, there was also mention of the reproduction of various specific family photographs. In some works, those reproductions are worn and battered, then glued and taped over handmade paper, which is also made of various past imagery and documents. This layering of both materials and meaning invites close and slow looking as viewers search for clues to this narrative.
This work is deeply personal and lends itself to reflecting on one’s own family, memories, loss, and reconstruction. The artist’s keen eye for color, shape, and repetition keeps viewers engaged and looking for more.
Disclosure: I first me Genie Hien Tran from my time in the MCAD MFA program, and we have published a conversation together on Art Sprawl.