Going through spaces

With a necessary dose of surrealism to go through the spaces between men – an exhibition of new work by Hoang Duong Cam

For Hoang Duong Cam the task of the artist is akin to an acrobatic feat of tightrope walking between contradictions. Formal and conceptual opposites recur in this new body of works, straddling jutting and flat surfaces, melancholic and vivid palettes, grand and minor narratives, external and internal worlds. The series of paintings and sculptures deftly traverses these opposing realms and manifests the artist’s eclectic interest in, and critical distance from, a vast range of visual, historical and sonic materials, from ancient folklore to modern war conspiracies, from Edoperiod paintings to European Surrealism, from Chopin’s polonaises to Vietnamese bolero. Influenced by the nonsensical logic and play of Dada, Hoang welcomes accidental and fragmented narratives to leave traces on his compositions. Gesturing at multiple significations instead of grasping at a singular meaning, each work sustains a psychological balance among the chaotic forces of histories that fuel his vital mind.

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Hoang continues his practice of weaving personal history and larger historical narratives but delves into the multi-faceted, ever-shifting and ever- colliding nature of borderlines—moving between those pertaining to history, geography, and those dividing rationality from the subconscious. Exploring the diverse interactions between these borders, Hoang focuses on the surreal spaces between them, and the act of “going through” such spaces. Defined by liminality and the baffling unease that stems from it, the in-between space gives rise to substantial experiences indescribable by the rationality of words and reasoning, expressible only through means of fleeting emotions, as well as a sense of lingering curiosity and confusion. Hoang links these liminal experiences to the Zen concept of công án (koan/gong’an), a meditative exercise of diverting one’s perspective from rationality to search for awareness of the true nature of matters. In his own công án, Hoang turns away from linear, clear-cut narratives to search for insight and honesty through abstract, innate contemplations. Recognizable images from historic photos are replaced by vibrant silhouettes of the negative space between their borders, cut out and re- arranged, flipped and layered.

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A fixation on often irreconcilable distance winds through the series, whether it’s the gap between ambition and resignation, between the heroic and the condemned in a nation’s history, or between calculated composition and inexplicable effect. Diving into intermediate spaces as an adroit painter and thinker endowed with endless meditations and digressions, Hoang disturbs these normative borders of past-present, north-south, east-west, craftsmanship-conceptuality. With a painting referencing Duchamp’s mystical last work, Étant donnés, an ever bizarre and erotic landscape that could only be seen through two peep-holes on an old wooden door, Hoang obliquely invites viewers to embrace his work, and the world, with a private, and necessarily imaginative, exercise in looking. To see past, or around, the man-made borders that separate and compartmentalize time, territory and men is perhaps the reward of the work on the part of the viewer. The sensual and indecipherable figures floating across the visceral canvas are forever on the verge of bleeding into something else, an endlessly protean journey, patiently open to polyphonic readings.

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