Group exhibition

7 March 2014

I am participating in a group exhibition at the Goethe Institut in Hanoi.  Please come by if you are in town.  For more information please see


KVT reviews Palimpsest Exhibition in Hanoi

15 May 2013

"KVT in palimpsest with Phi Phi Oanh"


Phi Phi Oanh never ceases to amaze me as she experiments with the properties of traditional lacquer, bending and breaking the rules, opening new pathways and bewildering the purists. It’s little wonder that I’m one of her biggest fans…

At L’Espace Phi Phi has mounted a daring exhibition of lacquer works called ‘Palimpsest’ which is one of those hard to pronounce without getting your tongue tied in knots words and which comes from Ancient Greek (palimpsestos) sort of meaning scraped clean.

The Romans used to work on wax coated tablets that could be smoothed and re-used and Cicero used the term palimpsest to describe the practice. Later it referred to parchment (in the days when parchments and paper were expensive scarcities) that was scraped of its original text so that a new one could be written or drawn on it. Often, and over time, the original text was often visible by transparency, a palimpsest.

You can still occasionally buy those magic slates for kids that erases the text when you lift the plastic coated page you initially wrote on. However you often find that the palimpsest of previous fun appears like a phantom.

Gore Vidal’s memoir is evocatively titled ‘Palimpsest’ and fits this remarkable novelist so well as it scrapes away the present to reveal images of the past, scratched and uneven and present a transparent truth

The word crosses many boundaries and in archeology it is used, simplistically, to describe repetitions of designs on the various layers of a dig.

It can be used to describe the lines left when an appliance is removed (a picture frame from the wall!)

I guess those urban walls that are plastered and re-plastered with posters could use the term and in Paris a permanent street art project is named Palimpsest and local and international artists coat and recoat Francois Mitterrand Mall with works on paper that are eventually covered by another’s paper work.

And I also like this piece, of the same name, commissioned for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and for the aging baby boomer rockers here’s an attempt by Palimpsest 9 to reconstruct a Cure hit:

And a You Tube clip of a palimpsest performance during Superformances in Strasbourg which pushes the term into the avant garde.

Which brings me back to Phi Phi and her ‘Palimpsest’ exhibition which definitely stretches her lacquer concepts and techniques into the avant garde.

Phi Phi uses pieces of her last year’s exhibition at L’Espace…lacquer on transparent film, and uses pieces of these as slides in redesigned projectors that use led lights. Like slides of medical specimens they are projected onto silk screens stretched over extra large wooden frames in a blacked out room.  The slides are changed during the day so that the macro/micro images are never the same and so that I don’t get my non scientific mind tied up in more knots than my tongue, I’ll follow with 3 images of Phi Phi’s wall statement that have a blurred enough touch to them to be interpretations of palimpsest statements.  The screens can be viewed from a variety of angles and are almost palimpsest echoes of the very brilliant lacquered metal tunnel she exhibited to enormous acclaim locally and at a triennale in China.

Pieces used as slides are displayed in a side cabinet as are originals, from the previous show in the same venue. 

Ever the exciting innovator and inventor, Phi Phi’s intent was to have her palimpsest images projected, from the interior of L’Espace, onto the windows at night, creating a huge screen to be viewed by passersby. Unfortunately the bright street lights made this almost impossible so she re-invented, almost on the spot, and constructed the present black box arena with slides projected onto 3 parallel silk screens by nine modified projectors…and for those keen to see how traditional mediums and concepts can be pushed and plasticized, then it’s an exhibition that is sure to excite and fire imaginations.

As always, I can hardly wait for the next installment.

Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. 

Palimpsest at L'Espace, Hanoi, April-May 2013

17 May 2013

Exposition de Nguyễn Oanh Phi Phi - 17 avr./24 mai 2013 - Hall d'exposition de L'Espace

Palimpseste est développé sur la base de la précédente exposition de Oanh Phi Phi à l’Espace où elle a présenté la peau laque (ou son ta sur un film transparent)

Palimpseste est développé sur la base de la précédente exposition de Oanh Phi Phi à l’Espace où elle a présenté la peau laque (ou son ta sur un film transparent), un concept et une technique qu'elle a développés de l’image de laque dématérialisée. Cette fois-ci, la laque est montrée par l’intermédiaire de diapositives projetées à l'aide de projecteurs spécialement réaménagés sur des écrans de soie tendus sur des cadres en bois. Ces projeteurs "modernisés" avec les LED n’abîment pas les laques dématérialisées qu’ils projettent et sont économes en énergie.

Vernissage :
17.04 – 18h00
Exposition : 

Entrée libre


Hanoi Grapevine Reviews Fragmentation of Space at L'espace

16 January 2013

"KVT Lacquered and Mapped"


I’m glad that I got back to Hanoi in time for the crush that comes with pre-Tet. I really enjoy the bustle and cold and color… and just as glad that I got back to see Oanh Phi Phi’s and Vu Kim Thu’s 

collaborative exhibition at L’Espace.  I guess we’d call it an exhibition of drawings, but whatever noun we use, the correct adjective would have to be scintillating. Now I’m pretty biased because I’m Phi Phi’s biggest fan and her delicate lacquer skins suspended throughout the airy space have drawn lots of awed wows from me.  Phi Phi always stretches the concept of traditional lacquer usage every which way, and this way at L’Espace is truly beautiful.  At times the architectural images are transparent and some fool you because the reverse image is entirely different.


Now, again, I’m pretty biased because I’ve watched with interest over the past 6 years as Thu has taken her journey with ink on paper throughout the world, adding new dimensions and maturity to her conceptual ideas each time she returns to Hanoi.  Her work on show here picks up on themes she’s explored before and adds aerial mapping to her doodling expertise.  The maps are explored in 2 dimensions and also twisted and warped to give unexpected vantage points. Some are suspended in Perspex boxes on Perspex platforms and float and sway like flat planets. I love the one in which the ‘maps’ are piled in small cubes.

Both artists have an ability to make grand statements. Who could ever forget Phi Phi’s immense ‘Specula’ or her series of lacquer coffins (both of which are on my indelible list of the ten best things Hanoi art has had to offer). Thu’s incredible adventure at Bui in 2010 after an incredibly potent residency in India was a memorable viewing adventure.

Both artists have an ability to pull back and create things that seem to come from quiet interior spaces and this exhibition is one of quiet and calm reflection.

I’m really glad that I caught it… and if you brave the gorgeous chaos that seasonally swells around us, with cumquat and peach trees bobbing up and down amidst the surging traffic, and get to L’Espace before mong mot, Jan 23, then I bet that you’ll be just as glad.

Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. 


Parchmentier exhibition at L'Espace, Hanoi, December-January 2011

13 December 2012

This project centers on the idea of creating a lacquer skin, a total dematerialization of the surface of lacquer as a way to extend to the possibilities of production, expression, and appreciation of son ta (natural Vietnamese lacquer) beyond geographical and cultural boundaries.

In this small and incomplete dialogue with Vũ Kim Thư’s Fragmentations of Space, I propose the metaphor of a screen or window as a framing mechanism through which we can perceive spatial and semiotic landscapes. The drawings include intimate places, highly semanticized locations, suggestions of imaginary landscapes that only exist given a frame or demarcation, and words that define the self in these locations.

Through each work, I move towards understanding the fundamental grammar of lacquer as a creative medium by breaking down its basic elements and patterns such as light, translucency, color, process, and time, setting aside its symbolic meaning and conventional uses.

Hall de L'Espace

Opening14 December, 18h00


14 December 2011 -  23 January 2012

Parchmentier, tiếng Việt

Những tác phẩm nhỏ bé và không đầy đủ được giới thiệu trong triển lãm lần này là khởi đầu cho đối thoại với các tác phẩm trong chuỗi “Không gian phân mảnh” của Vũ Kim Thư. Phi Phi mang vào cuộc đối thoại này phép ẩn dụ về một màn hình hay một chiếc cửa sổ giống như một lăng kính trụ mà thông qua đó chúng ta có thể nhìn thấy được mối tương quan giữa một phong cảnh và nhận thức chủ quan bao gồm văn hóa và bộ nhớ tập thể tạo nên không gian này. Phi Phi vẽ những nơi thân thiết, những địa điểm mang nặng hình thức và ý nghĩa, những không gian tưởng tượng chỉ tồn tại trong một khung hình hay mốc phân giới, và những từ định nghĩa bản thân tại các địa điểm này.

Dự án này tập trung vào ý tưởng tạo nên cách thức thực hiện sơn mài da, để tách rời bề mặt tranh sơn mài ra khỏi mặt vóc cứng để gợi mở khả năng sản xuất, thể hiện và sự đánh giá sơn ta vượt ra ngoài ranh giới địa lý và văn hóa.

Phi Phi hướng đến việc phân tích ngữ pháp cơ bản của sơn mài như một phương tiện sáng tạo, bằng cách chia ra từng yếu tố cơ bản như ánh sáng, màu sắc, tính trong mờ, quy trình và thời gian, tách rời sang một bên ý nghĩa tượng trưng và quy ước thường được dùng trong nghệ thuật sơn mài.

Hà Nội, tháng 12, năm 2011

Exhibition Announcement Phi Phi Oanh and Thu Kim Vu

12 December 2012

logo lespace
exhibition space and space's fragments

Institut Français de Hanoi – L’Espace

24 Tràng Tiền, Hà Nội

Tel: (84-4) 39 36 21 64


Une exposition des artistes Vu Kim Thu & Nguyen Oanh Phi Phi - 14 déc. 2011 / 23 janv. 2012 - Hall de L'Espace

Faisant l’expérience du déménagement et de l’installation, les artistes ont centré leurs travaux sur l’espace et sa déconstruction, à travers l’aventure de leurs voyages et leurs changements de lieux de vie.

Nguyen Oanh Phi Phi construit de larges installations picturales qui évoquent des espaces contemplatifs et se concentre sur la matérialité de la laque pour produire au sein de son œuvre un sentiment de rayonnement intérieur qui suscite la mémoire et la réflexion.

Vu Kim Thu laisse libre cours au processus de création, en usant d’un dessin en noir et blanc, sur de petits objets en relief comme sur de plus grandes surfaces, comme réponse à chaque destination de voyage et chaque nouvel espace qu’elle découvre. 

Vernissage :
14.12 - 18h00 
Exposition :
14.12 > 23.01

Entrée libre



Aizu Fukushima Urushi Art Festival 2011

1 October 2011

Board by Phi Phi Oanh

The Sun, a poem, by Juda al Harizi (Toledo 1170-1235)

Look: The sun has spread its wings

over the earth to dispel the darkness.

Like a great tree with its roots in heaven 

and its branches reaching down to the earth.

1 October – 23 November 2011

AIZU FUKUSHIMA URUSHI ART FESTIVAL 2011 会津 漆の芸術祭, Exhibition Hall of Aizuwakamatsu City, Japan

Female Urushi Artists' Solidarity with the People of TOHOKU, Kizuna Project 

This special exhibition was organized in support of the people who live in the lacquer area of Tohoku (Northeast Japan) and who have been deeply affected by the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.  Twenty-seven international lacquer artists were sent lacquer boards produced in the Aizu region to create works encouraging solidarity and reconstruction.  

Curated by Sakurako Matshushima and Fumie Sasai.

Hanoigrapevine Blurb

01 Nov 2010

"Phi Phi Oanh in China and Hanoi"


Specula photographed in Wuhan at the Hubei Museum of Art

Specula photographed in Wuhan at the Hubei Museum of Art

Phi Phi Oanh is back from showing her Specula at the first International Lacquer Triennial in Wuhan, China.

Critically acclaimed as a groundbreaking work in contemporary lacquer, Specula brings Vietnamese lacquer to the international stage in grand fashion.

In this ambitious exhibit, the Hubei Museum of Art gathered over 46 artists working in natural lacquer from across the globe under the theme of Lacquer: Material, Process, Spirit. Congratulations Phi Phi!

Back in Hanoi she is showing some of her smaller pieces and studies at Diego Cortiza‘s Chula Home.

Check it out before November 5.


Interior at Chula Fashions 

Interior at Chula Fashions 

21 October 2010, Hanoi

Today the International Lacquer Triennial closes in Wuhan.  One show closes and another one begins.  Oanh Phi Phi birthday celebration and small works exhibition at Chula Hanoi.  Please join us if you are in town!  

Thursday, 21 October, 18:30-late.  Please see this link for directions...

Hope to see you! 

Phi Phi Oanh

Group Show at Au Co Gallery

16 January 2010, Hanoi

I am participating in this group show at the Au Co Gallery.  It will be the last for me in Hanoi for a couple of months.  I hope you can come by and see it.


26 Jan 2010, Hanoigrapevine reviews this show...

"KVT on an Incredible Au Co journey"


I’ve just discovered a really excellent and very exciting gallery. 

It’s off Au Co, down lane 124 that leads past Tu Lien market and down to where the cumquat trees are being readied for Tet and to the drought riven dry reaches of the river and a temporary village on the banks full of ceramic pots which is an unmissable installation in itself… but if you go past the market you’ve gone about 20 meters too far. In the first lane to the right, on the left, is the Au Co Gallery.

It’s a large gallery space all on one level and if I was an artist wanting to exhibit this is where I’d want to be shown.

The exhibition, 

Paths of Self-Questioning, presents the work of ten good artists who loosely address that theme. The work is presented tremendously well. The space is so large that nothing is in too close a proximity to be lost as it bounces off another artist’s work and every exhibit is allowed to breathe its own air (a rare thing in our art scene).

My favorite from this well balanced show is The Pink Box by Nguyen Xuan Long. It’s a very strong and intellectual installation. It’s about the mad surfeit of news and current event overload that we digest daily as we sit in comfort in our pink tinged cloud cuckoo land. Powerful! And if you can get the gallery people to dim all the gallery lights and leave the pink box self illuminated you’ll be truly impressed.

Mind you it’s an intellectual show that has been very intelligently curated. When you enter the gallery and are confronted with the long paper and rock floor piece by Nguyen Son perfectly overlooked by the large canvas caligraphic triptych by Tran Nhat Thang you are completely won over.

The works on canvas by Vu Han Nguyen and La Nhu Lan are arresting and the three portrait faces emerging or submerging by Phuong Quoc Tri are overwhelming crowd pleasers in their almost 3D glory.

The wall lacquers by La Huy are attractive and complement the amazing ‘Carp Pondering the Moon’, lacquer on curved metal on a mirror, by that amazing Phi Phi Oanh.

Phi Phi’s statement that ‘we cannot see all we want to see even though it may be right in front of our eyes’ is literally reflected in the very strong minimalistic installation, ‘Delusion About Objectivity’ by Pham Tran Le which a lot of viewers will find challenging.

The gallery and its surrounds are super and I hope it becomes a vital part of the private gallery scene. I think it could give all the other top galleries a run for their money and I can hardly wait to see what’s on next.

Every artist and art lover should put Au Co and this show right on top of their must see list. It’s easy to find and absolutely top notch.

Specula in the Press

10 January 2010

A Lacquer Renaissance: One artist brushes the cobwebs off lacquer painting and takes a new look at an old medium.

Written by Bailey Seybolt. Photos by Aaron Joel Santos.

Source: The Word Hanoi, Monthly lifestyle print magazine, January 2010

The artist at work

Some artistic inspiration requires a visit from a muse. Other good ideas have more earthly beginnings. “I was having my coffee in a dark, very narrow, typically nameless café in Hanoi,” says artist Phi Phi Oanh. “I was aimlessly staring at the stains of humidity, dirt, and time on the other wall when it came to my mind to create a narrow space, a tunnel, reflecting the architecture of Hanoi and enigma of its charm.”

Phi Phi is no stranger to the interplay between art and daily life. Arriving in Hanoi on a Fulbright grant to study son ta (natural lacquer painting) in 2005, she became interested in pushing the boundaries of an art form considered by most to be reserved for traditional work.  “There is a lot of fuss made about ‘traditional’ lacquer painting in Vietnam,” she says, “but I don’t see many artists up-keeping that tradition. I also don’t see it as being particularly old or time worn.”  Instead, her work is part of an evolution in lacquer painting that will move it out of the realm of ancient vases and lacquer dragons and into more worldly subjects – the texture of a rough brick wall, the sheen of a hinge on a wooden door, and even the flash of a swimming goldfish.

“My focus is not how to continue or re-interpret a tradition,” she says. “Rather, I am interested in how the use and practice of son ta can have meaning and respond to contemporary concerns.”

Putting it together: Add and Subtract

Though Phi Phi mainly paints on the flat surfaces of wood and metal, her work seems almost sculptural in its many layers and textures. “Most of the innovations in lacquer painting have been stylistic innovations,” she says. “Cubism, Expressionism, and Social Realism in lacquer - these have all been through the prism of oil painting. I think lacquer can be looked at as an entirely different genre.  Lacquer can be more than just a window on the world – like a painting. Its qualities suggest it fills a gap between photography, painting and sculpture,” she adds.

One of the things that sets lacquer painting apart is the process of creation. In oil painting you add paint to create a picture. In sculpture you chip away at stone to create an image. Lacquer painting is a combination of both. “Lacquer is a play of thickness,” says Phi Phi. “The image you want to keep has to be thicker.”  Creating a painting can often take months, as layer upon layer of lacquer is added and then polished by both the artist and her assistants wearing rubber boots and wielding sandpaper to create a brilliant shine.  “Sometimes, in big projects, you will rediscover images you forgot were even there,” says the artist. And big is exactly how to describe her most recent endeavour.

The tools: Specula

The moment of inspiration in the dusty old coffee shop has turned into Phi Phi’s most ambitious project yet: a seven-metre-long, four-metre-tall installation titled Specula. Specula is not just a large painting, but a self-contained cave-like structure. The walls and dome of the cave are made from lacquer on epoxy fiberglass composite, and the images inscribed on the wall are lit from beneath by a semi-transparent glass floor. “I use the transparency and layering ability of lacquer to create a network of images, to create an imaginary cave comprising two halves - cave interior and cave underwater joined by an arabesque arch,” she explains.  The cave interior focuses on the simple lines and drawings of prehistoric man, encouraging the viewer to seek out their own meaning.  “I tried to keep it simple, reduced, to allow the viewer to continue the line of the imagination, like the wonderment in looking for shapes in cloud formations or staring at the wall of the Ryo-angi gardens in Kyoto,” says Phi Phi.

The cave underwater aspect of the piece uses the natural shine of the black lacquer to play on the idea of water as a reflective surface. There is something eerie about seeing yourself reflected in what appears to be a black bottomless pool that is, in reality, completely self-contained.  “In areas, I try to simulate the effect of looking through muddy water and finding that you can see only yourself in the reflection,” she says.

If there seems to be a natural theme running through her work, it’s no coincidence. One of the most important elements of lacquer painting is its connection to the natural world. Not only is the lacquer itself a natural substance produced from a tree indigenous to northern Vietnam, but the process itself can’t occur without the elements. “Lacquer depends on humidity,” adds Phi Phi. “It is the perfect marriage between environment and art because its dependency on climate to dry is a wonderful parallel to our relationship with nature and our environment.”  It is an ambitious project to bring all these elements together, but the artist is fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead.

“I hope this project showcases the way traditions can crossover to different areas, and how we can see the old in a new light,” she says.

Specula opens on Dec. 4 and runs to Dec. 31 at the Hanoi City Exhibition Hall, 93 Dinh Tien Hoang, 


Exhibition Closing

2 January 2010


Today I dismantled Specula at the Hanoi City Exhibition Hall.  Thank you to everyone who visited this month and especially to those who left me thoughtful comments and letters.