Starting from my first exhibition Black Box, I started to think of the contact point with lacquer as a “field of experience” as opposed to a representational type of painting or sculpture. Specula, moves son mai from two dimensional wall painting to an architectural space that also asks the question of what could the image of lacquer be upon itself when unmediated through the experience of other images like oil painting or photography. After Doi Moi the innovations of lacquer art in Vietnam are for the most part stylistic, modeled after the successive modernist changes in painting throughout the 20th century, and in a certain sense modeled upon thought habits leading up to the original. Specula adopts another strategy treating son ta as a substance and son mai as a process whose inherent qualities folds into its own image, one that neither depends on an object nor belong to a subject. This approach of immanence, the recognition for son ta to be a substance as an image of its own substance-ness (as opposed to transcendence) allows for a breaking away from a type of image making whose thought patterns are pre-established in other categorical and dual forms. As such an image Specula contains no tension within itself, there is no otherness, or contradiction, it is in itself, of itself.
Specula is an observation of son ta’s its ability to transmutate into distilled essences of basic matter unfolding into a series of memetic forms—stone, bricks, water— that suggests the interior of a cave. The metamorphosis that converts the lacquer in stone, in moss, in crystalline water, is not an optical representation of nature like those Baroque paintings in trompe-l'oeil. Rather, this symbolic cave is constructed with pigments of oxidation, water, precious metals, resin from Earth, establishing a parallel becoming with the natural matter of a cave. Layer by layer, as if condensing the slow process of geological formation based on sedimentation and erosion through the painting and sanding, the image of its own materiality emerges.
With respect to the body and the spectator, Specula echoes a desire for this vital reverberation. As a type of theatre, the word Specula refers to the medical instrument used to perform examinations of bodily cavities, in the act analogous to the viewer penetrating the evocative space of this imaginary womb. The name Specula declares that it is not an object of artistic contemplation, nor an open and public space available to the viewer in any light, time or context, but rather this work is about the act of prospecting, the act of looking with an intense and concentrated gaze at something that cannot be taken in at once as a whole in its entirety, but only understood through the slow intense looking at the sum of its parts.
Specula as an image is the result of the accumulation of time, environmental factors, moods and reflections and gestures symbiotically transformed into a type of mirror. To the touch, the surface is cool and smooth as a mirror, contradicting the rich textures and deep colors beneath the surface plane giving a simultaneous perception of the essential and the illusory, evoking a mental image, beyond the optical. In the momentary simultaneous contradiction between the essential and the illusory, the object and its space, optical textures and tactile smoothness, being and nonbeing, lies a philosophical reflection of Chan Buddhism that calls upon a collected mind gathered upon the conscious awareness of perception and present, dissipating the metaphysical division between form and matter, the individual and their environment.