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.
Genie Hien Tran, “Am Phu”
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.
Genie Hien Tran, large drawing: “Remembering”, small yellow gate image: “Untitled (merging)”
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.
Genie Hien Tran, “Touch”
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.
Genie Hien Tran, “Charteuse (to hold)”
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.
Julia Garcia, “Bloom” 2023, acrylic and ink on canvas, 38″x38″
This was my first time at Night Club Gallery at their new St. Paul location for Julia Garcia’s new exhibition, SAWGRASS, and I was delighted to find it’s within easy walking distance of Lowertown Underground Artists, where I took in Zach Leonard’s show, Awkward Oddities. The fun bonus was as I walked from LUA to Night Club, I passed Im/Perfect Slumbers in the windows of The M and Jose Dominguez’s work in skyway!
I would recommend this trek to anyone, and if you do it this coming weekend, you can still catch all 3 (Zach Leonard’s show is open this coming Saturday, March 25 for 10am-2pm or 6-8pm for a closing reception).
Katya Oicherman and Peng Wu, “Imperfect Slumbers” at The M windows
ALEXANDRA BEAUMONT, “Dancing with Friends 1 – 3” (2022) Various textiles
EM: The details felt like a really key element that ties this group exhibition together, whether that was specific moments in paintings, mindful choices in object construction, or repeated items in collage/assemblage works, etc. what were some of the most striking details to you and why?
PATRICIO DELARA, Figure study on post-it (2022)
AS: For me some of the most striking details were revealed in the shifts of scale between the pieces. Beaumont’s monumental figures danced next to Delara’s study of figures on a post it note, further reducing Delara’s figures within their pastel piece (on view next to the post it). This juxtaposition of a seemingly small detail of a post it note study used something of a very small scale, tacked like a note to the wall, to draw me in closely. Upon turning around and viewing Beaumont’s dancing figures, I had to first step back to take in the details, but then also step forward to understand the various textiles and stitches. This rhythm of stepping closely and stepping back was necessary to unlock the details within the exhibition. Other details that struck me through this process were saleh’s structural wood element and the hard objects embedded within Taman’s piece.
EM: As the curatorial statement shares, memories and landscape are central to this exhibition, and I know memory has been a key part of your creative practice too. I wonder if there were specific pieces that resonated based on use of memory?
AS: Taman’s Teata’s Tabletent and Varghese Mac’sA series of forms to keep our skin intact both especially resonated with me. Taman’s piece, for me, beautifully displays how objects hold memories and can be put away and not thought about but also a stagnant presence in our memories. Like my own work, Taman has recreated this handed down object to explore their own identity in connection to ancestral lineage. Varghese Mac’s piece mirrored how both personal and societal memory functions. Concrete, something initially flexible and changing, can solidify to serve a specific purpose. Our memories also transform and adapt to fit purposeful narratives to understand ourselves. Varghese Mac’s etched images on the concrete are subtle and eroded enough to feel like a deep cultural memory, seeming to suggest how solid concrete will one day crumble following the cycle of memory.
SATYA VARGHESE MAC, “A series of forms to keep our skin intact” (2022) Light etched concrete, iron and titanium oxides, mustard seed oil
EM: Texture was an important formal component across several works, whether is the juicy piled painted borders of Maiya Lea Hartman’s painting, the hanging layered fiber work of Alexandra Beaumont, or the etched concrete of Satya Varghese Mac, among many others. Where did texture stand out? Or was there a different key formal element to you?
MAIYA LEA HARTMAN, “Sisters 4 Life” (2022) Acrylic, oil, paper on wood pane
AS: Within the exhibition, texture stood out in the woven layered collage like elements of many of the pieces. This served to give the exhibition an overall texture. Many of the pieces seemed to be fitting parts together as a whole and this element served to bring all of the pieces in the exhibition together, whole. Ford’sThe Beginning of it All, is a painting rich in surface pattern which brings a textural element into the painting. The painting canvas itself seemed raw and was forced into the frame, embracing wrinkles in the canvas adding an unexpected textural element. Khuth’s photographic collages, Small Ruptures, paired smoothness of skin and a silky blue backdrop with textural wrinkles of fabric and jewelry which emitted the feeling of warm metal on skin. This pairing in the collage reflected many of the textural variations of the exhibition.
SABRINA FORD, “The Beginning of it All” (2022) Acrylic, oil pastel on canvas
MICHAEL KHUTH, “Small Ruptures” (2022) Paper, tape
Disclosure: I know Anika Schneider from when I was directing the MFA program at MCAD.
Teo Nguyễn, “Phan Thị Kim Phúc” (2018) Acrylic on vellum, mounted to aluminum
EM: When and how to provide context seemed like a question the artist made careful decisions about. I wondered what you thought about what was and was not provided?
GHT: Talking about the paintings specifically, I think the majority of them don’t provide much of what their sources are, such as the original photographs and other researched materials. They only provide the artist’s perspectives. This to me is interesting. Growing up Vietnamese, I refer to the war as “The American War” and it is of course the opposite here. The difference is a matter of perspective, the point of view of who the speaker is. I believe that by stripping away context, the artist is revealing to us his point of view instead of what was provided to him. Nguyen is choosing to see what he would like to see; and in his words, it is worthiness, beauty, reconciliation, resistance and spiritualism. On the other hand, the artist purposefully chooses to reveal the source such as “The Terror of War” photograph for one of his paintings. By doing this, he’s emphasizing the story of the girl in the photo, Kim Phúc, who most often referred to as the Napalm girl. In the didactic, he gives space to show her hope, her fight and commitment to live. Through her story, I believe Nguyen finds the power of resistance.
Also, even though I understand that the paintings must have been of real places and regions in Vietnam, there are no indications of street name, town, village and land marker that would lead me to a specific location. Without such information, you as the audience are trusted to view the work solely through the artist’s point of view—through his colors, language, and brush strokes, etc. Even without reading the artist’s statement, one could sense peacefulness, and at the same time, sorrow and mourning through the paintings very effectively.
Teo Nguyễn, “Agent Orange” (2022) archival aqueous pigment prints on transparent film; acrylic
EM: The scale shifts in this exhibition are significant, from tiny and large-scale photorealistic paintings, to the video work, to the huge installations hanging in the atrium or installed on the floor. I see similar scale shifts in your own practice, with tiny images and collaged moments arranged within much larger fields or picture planes. I wondered if you had any thoughts on the use of scale?
GHT: I know I mentioned this in the question I posed for you, but this exhibition makes me think a lot about the body. I think it has something to do with the constant overlaps of what is and isn’t seen, shown or provided. From the paintings which have war and human evidence deliberately removed to the floor paper installation of dead and missing Vietnamese people, this exhibition is empty of bodies. Contrasting that with the different scales of the work, which I feel require the viewers to compose their body differently depending on the piece: slouching down and peering into his mother’s intimate poetry, or tilting their heads back to look at the ceiling installation. I’m not sure entirely what this shift in movement means to me, but I find that it’s interesting to actively move yourself around and activate many senses in order to be immersed in an exhibition that is mostly of missing and lost bodies. I also think it almost goes back to the idea of forced perspective, of point of view. With the many different scales, the artist is making us ask questions of: Why is this scene at this scale? Where do I stand to experience the piece? What do I miss and gain from my way of seeing?
The scale shift in my own work is different in my opinion. I think Nguyen sees each of his paintings or pieces as a totality, while I think my images are part of one another. When I shift the scale of an image, it is because they either become more or less visible to me in the moment, and are completely dependent on its relationship with other images. However, sometimes I structure my images and their scales entirely based on technicality or spiritual reasons. If a scale or composition makes me feel good, I’ll work with that and won’t impose too much thinking behind it.
Poetry and photo in display case in Teo Nguyễn exhibition; photographer unknown for Portrait of Duang Anh Loi (1973), digital inkjet print
EM: Point of view, memory, and familial relationships are important to the conceptual underpinnings of these works, from the photojournalist’s perspective to the artist’s mother’s reflections. Did anything related to point of view stand out to you?
GHT: Feel like I touched on that a little with the other answers. There definitely is a strong undertone and influence of memory and familial relationship alongside his point of view. In the video and poetic piece, we see a much more personal take at the war and how it affected the artist’s familial relationship. These are one of the only few pieces in the show with presentations of a person, and both are of his mother (or echoes of her image, language, etc.). With both, we get this sense of loss and separation that are a lot more obvious and pungent. Accompanied with no dialogues, the song in the video piece reminded me of a lullaby a mom would sing to her young child. The melody also lingers with you when you are reading the artist’s mother’s writing due to the pieces being next to each other. To me, the memory of the artist’s mother and his familial relationships feel like a cornerstone, a grounded starting point in order for him to venture to other viewpoints.
Teo Nguyễn, “We Never Met, Yet Our Souls Embrace, Yêu Nhau Trong Phận Người ” (2018) acrylic on vellum, mounted to aluminum
GHT: When approaching the topics of war and human trauma, the artist deliberately removes human depiction and historical evidence and yet, to me, it seems that the land somehow remembers the pain. How does the mere appearance of land and environment make you feel as the audience? What do you think of the idea of land storing memories and if you have anything more to add to that?
EM: The painted landscapes are beautiful on their own and the absence of the horrors of war make that beauty all the more poignant to me because it underlines the total unnecessary-ness of that violence. The space thrived before the war, and while the land will continue to hold memories of the violence via depressions and clearings in the brush, it will also slowly return to these pre-war states. I believe the time it takes to heal the land, letting plant and animal life do the slow work of mending, is a long-term reminder of the harm done.
Teo Nguyễn, Remembering Other (2022) stacked white paper; transparent acrylic; site-specific installation
GHT: As you mentioned, the work ranges from 2-dimensional drawings to video work and ceiling installation. Though they might be different in format and scale, in each piece, there is an implication of the body—not only of the dead and wounded but also of the artist. I wonder if you thought of this as well and what are your thoughts on the hidden bodies behind the work?
EM: I observed a sense of hidden bodies most intensely with Remembering Other, which consisted of stacks of white paper in transparent acrylic boxes, physically illustrating the scale of loss of life on behalf of the Vietnamese people, both military and civilian casualties. There were also paintings that implied hidden bodies to me, but much more subtly via the compositional choices.
Teo Nguyễn, The Singing Stops in All the Trees, Hát Trên Những Xác Người (2016) acrylic on vellum, mounted to aluminum
GHT: Translation is used thoughtfully throughout the entire exhibition. However, from my understanding of the Vietnamese language, the translation is loosely connected and leaning more poetic rather than precise. (For example, The Singing Stopped in All the Trees isn’t exactly a one-to-one translation for the title Hát Trên Những Xác Người, which translated literally to To sing on top of bodies). Along with the artist’s mother’s poem display, language seems to wield as much power as visual in the exhibition, and I’m curious what you think about the role of language, translation, and written text when paired with visual art.
EM: First, I feel lucky to get your insight here as a speaker of Vietnamese. The difference in translations is stark, and illustrates just how much power the translator wields. Having both written material and visual art side by side in this case helps highlight how each medium has its own strengths in different ways. Sometimes the specificity of words seem more decisive and pointed, directing the viewer/reader to exactly what the artist/author wants us to observe. In contrast, at other times the image is most impactful because it shows us, rather than describing what we should pay attention to. Each viewer translates those images based on their personal context, whereas with the translated text, some conceptual choices are made for us.
Further discussion in the video below:
Disclosure: I know Genie Hien Tran as a past student when I was directing the MFA program at MCAD.
This is a short reflection on the exhibition, Abject Permanence by Allison Baker running Sept 10-Oct 22, 2022 at Dreamsong, 1237 4th St NE, Minneapolis MN 55413 (Open Wed-Sat 12-5pm). The format of this reflection is a single sentence per image. This content is also available as a printed zine.
Because of its somewhat hidden placement, the grotesque neon glue, and crooked sharp seams, my favorite moment in the show was this cup that seemed to be barely holding itself together after having had a hold drilled in it.
Bookcase (2022) paper pulp, silicone, resin, foam, steel, mug, 53x30x24″
The cup was located near the bottom of Bookcase and required looking past the tempting tactility of the glove at eye-level, and kneeling down to see what that neon orange was about – barely peaked out from beneath leaves that seemed to be rendered with care.
Cast gloves from four different sculptures
These colorful work-gloves appeared in several of the sculptures, and sometimes as a stand-alone object, which felt fitting as a key element of the visual language the artist is playing with.
Looking at the varied surfaces in the exhibition, this phrase from the written materials felt most resonant: “What we covet and possess absorbs and manifests anxiety.”
The Gate of the Rose (2022) Paper pulp, silicone, steel, 54x44x60″
The moments where the visual references were most open to interpretation drew me in, as in The Gate of the Rose [detail pictured here] or Cactus [pictured below from three different angles].
Cactus (2022) resin, 5x5x4 1/2″
I closely examined the translucent quality of many of the sculptural vegetation forms, which ranged from precise castings to more exaggerated cartoon-like forms.
Rotten Fruit (2022) resin, 1 1/2x4x4″
I almost missed Rotten Fruit located in the back corner of the back room, and was glad the gallery sitter pointed it out to me because I enjoyed how it seemed to contrast the rest of the objects, with its lack of saturated colors and small scale, quietly amplifying the bulbous forms found elsewhere in the space.
Rock Study #1-3 (2022) paper pulp, silicone, steel, 5 1/2×2 1/2×2 1/2″
While there were also collaged drawings and video work, the sculptures drew me in the most with their sheer color, scale, texture, and contrast.
Disclosure: I briefly met the artist at two different opening receptions in spring 2022 when I was directing the MFA program at MCAD, and invited her to serve as a mentor.