SPECULA, notes

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.


The art object

From the Tao Te Ching:

We join spokes together in a wheel,

but it is the center hole

that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,

but it is the emptiness inside

that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,

but it is the inner space

that makes it livable.

We work with being,

but non-being is what we use. 


Recurring throughout many cultures and eras, the cave is an enclosure for intimate thought.  Specula contains traces of moments in the history of human representation when we have appealed to philosophy and art in order to deal with the reality of our temporality.  From sources as diverse as the cave paintings of Altamira, Plato’s allegory of the cave, the Scrovegni Chapel, Buddhist temples, patterns of mathematical tesselations such as the Penrose tiling or sophisticated Islamic geometric systems, these pluri-cultural and spacial references create a complex syncretic system of signs to extend the possibility of this poetic reverberation regardless of the cultural background of each viewer.  Specula is the space, instrument, and mirror that emphasizes art as a shared, empirical, corporeal and experiential philosophy that tries to incite a leap beyond the domestic and everyday. 



Experiments with new substrates: Epoxy reinforced composite

Early on in the creation of Specula, I realized that it will be necessary to explore non traditional surfaces for painting with lacquer. The original support (substrate) of plywood covered with layers of clay and lacquer would be too unwieldy for the curve of the arch. The projected size of each piece would imply excessive weight that would complicate the installation and transport. Not to mention, the expansion and contraction of wood under abrupt changes of temperature and humidity puts greater stress on the stability of the painting.

For these reasons I started to experiment with different types of plastics. The first tests showed that raw son ta binds extremely well to an epoxy surface. This encouraged me to go further. Lightweight with adequate mechanical properties, the epoxy is reinforced with fiberglass to give it structure. Finally, the fact that epoxy emits lower volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere and does not require solvents for cleanup, making it the more environmentally friendly resin in the polymer family, made me finally decide on this material.

After experimenting with different catalysts and proportions, I was able to find the right recipe for creating the panels for Specula. In my studio, all the boards for Specula were created-- one mold for the curved apse, and one rectangle for the wall pieces.

50 x50 epoxy.jpg