Hanoi Grapevine Reviews Fragmentation of Space at L'espace

16 January 2013

"KVT Lacquered and Mapped"

Source:  http://hanoigrapevine.com/2012/01/kvt-phi-phi-thu-that-su-tuyet-voi/

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. 

Source: http://hanoigrapevine.com/2012/01/kvt-phi-...

Hanoigrapevine Blurb

01 Nov 2010

"Phi Phi Oanh in China and Hanoi"

Source: http://hanoigrapevine.com/2010/11/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.

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, 


Makeshift in the Press

20 Dec 2009


Source:  http://hanoigrapevine.com/2009/12/lang_enaspirational-and-inspirationallang_enlang_vititlelang_vi/

If boutique as an adjective implies intimate, luxurious, or quirky and all or any of these applied to a small space then Phi Phi Oanh’s new exhibition Make Shift at the Japan Foundation wins on all counts. If the adverbs themed, stylish and aspirational are added to Phi Phi’s boutique exhibition then it is described even more aptly.

If you visit the small gallery only to revisit or become acquainted with the super fabulous floor piece first seen at the opening of the Bui Gallery in March then you will have seen one of the best bits of art seen in Hanoi this year… or any year… lacquer on steel.

Then if you fall in love with the round steel drum lid that has been lavishly lacquered with a traditional Vietnamese meal appetizingly laid out then who can blame you! I really aspire it as an actual table piece. I’d somehow cover it with glass and use it for intimate meals… I’m all in favour of good art being put to functional uses. The small and quirky bucket installation is really delightful and the brick panels are a luxurious rendition of the plain, tatty, everyday and ordinary. Marvelous!

Catch it while you can. It’s as good as Christmas.

PS: purists feel free to tackle my boutiqued use of grammatical terminologies.

Not a reviewer, not a critic, “Kiếm Văn Tìm” is an interested, impartial and informed observer and connoisseur of the Hanoi art scene who offers highly opinionated remarks and is part of the long and venerable tradition of anonymous correspondents.

Hanoigrapevine reviews SPECULA

Specula Spectacular

09 Dec 2009

Source: http://hanoigrapevine.com/2009/12/lang_enspecula-spectacularlang_enlang_vispecula-spectacularlang_vi/

I’ve been holding off writing an opinion piece about Phi Phi Oanh’s speccy installation because I keep having new thoughts about it (all good) and keep wanting to revisit it (and it gets even better each time).

Specula (singular = speculum) are medical instruments used to open body cavities or orifices for careful inspection. They are intended to provide direct vision of area of interest and can have inbuilt illumination to make investigation easier.

Phi Phi has given the term a poetic and artistic licence and has created a long and wonderful, softly illuminated cavern that viewers can wander through and explore. The illumination is provided through a floor of thick, opaque panes of glass gridded into squares. The cavern walls are large, lushly lacquered fiber-glass panels.

As I wander through the arched corridor I am reminded of many evocative places. At times I am in Sydney or London in a passageway leading to an underground train; I’m in the cool cistern beneath the streets of Istanbul; I’m in a disused railway tunnel carved through rock walls or walled with mossy, damp bricks; I’m staring up at the curved and tessellated roof of an old mosque; I’m in an abandoned mine shaft with streaks of semi precious minerals seaming the walls; I’m in an archaeological dig, ancient, fossilized artefacts glinting among smooth rocks; I’m in the future and observing a Planet of the Apes or The Road scenario of a ruined earth as it existed before a cataclysmic devastation; I’m in the apse of a shimmering cathedral; I’m in new places each time I view the installation. It’s a cavity of fantasy and suspense.

The subtle and diffused lighting makes you wander slowly and peer carefully into the layers of lacquer for the wonders that were either deliberately imposed by the artist or that magically appeared as the layers of lacquer were applied and rubbed back.

The artist has a recent history of pushing the boundaries of lacquer painting. A couple of years ago her boxes at the Art Museum in Hanoi were stunning. This year her floor piece of lacquer on metal was the attention grabber at the opening of the Bui Gallery. And now she’s done it again, using traditional lacquer in ways that puts that medium well and truly into a modern focus.

In Copenhagen this week a group of famous, contemporary artists have installed new art works that in some way reflect on, or comment on, humans and their effect on the planet’s fragile environment. Phi Phi Oanh’s Specula would have no difficulty in holding its own there. In fact it would be a stand out. She is obviously an artist who will have a successful international future.

Specula is installed at the Hanoi City Exhibition Hall. It’s a noisy space that thunders and blarts with passing traffic and somehow this mix of fumes and noise doesn’t detract from the magic of the piece, even adding to its layers of meaning… though on one visit I wore ear plugs to imagine what it would be like installed in a deathly quiet gallery. It is such a wonderful piece of art that it would be at home in an open air place as well as indoors and I could see it re-commissioned as a permanent entrance to a theatre, a hotel feature, a restaurant. It definitely belongs on display in a world class Museum of Modern Art.

The present site is great because it is so close to the passing parade of pedestrians and it’s wonderful to lean into the shadows and watch the effect it has on casual viewers. It’s always good to have impressive art removed from the eloquent and rarified air of art galleries and museums so that the public can interact with it… and in this case through it.

Phi Phi has worked on this large architectural piece with a group of dedicated assistants ranging from structural engineers to lacquer mixers and they must all have big smiles of accomplishment on their faces as they see the results of their labour. It is the top of the pops in solo art exhibitions this year in Hanoi and is a fabulous way to visually complete the first decade of the new century.

Keep your eyes attuned to the Grapevine because I hear that Phi Phi will have a further exhibition this month of her recent work (17 Dec, Japan Foundation, details coming soon) and if she has another Open Studio before she leaves us and heads to Europe in the new year, don’t miss it. If you have the chance to purchase any of her work think of it as a real investment.

As you can see I’m one of her biggest fans and my reference to her earlier this year as a new Yoko Ono still holds fast.

Thanks to the American Embassy for being instrumental in sponsoring this massive and massively important art work.

SPECULA is glowing spectacularly until Dec 31.