Sensation of Light

Am Sang, a phrase invented by the artist, communicates a sensation of light, shadows and reflections. While “sang” is translated as “light”, “am” refers to “yin” (the female principle in nature) and suggests the spiritual world.

In am sang, Huy An finds inspiration in the rich folk and religious traditions of Northern Vietnam—scavenging relics, curiosities and memories from temple sites, theatres and distinguished actors. Once collected, these items are subtly manipulated and re-appropriated by the artist, drawing out reflections on the threads that run between the reality of today and the cultural heritage of epic mythologies and sacred communal rites that are very much a part of Huy An’s consciousness.

Huy An’s artistic practice has long built on his fascination with the objects, mundanities and spaces of daily life, particularly in and around his native Hanoi, and with the shadows they cast. Previously, the shadows he explored were more concrete but here, in sympathy with the subject matter, they have become more obscure, ambiguous, even mental shadows perhaps, cast not by an object’s corporal form but by its cultural and historical mass instead.

Originating in medieval times, the distinct styles of tuong and cheo Theatre embody ancient Confucianist value systems, centered on courtly and quotidian rural life respectively. They were sources not only of entertainment, but of moral teachings and social satire as well. A central aspect of the Mother Goddess, or Dao Mau faith is a highly-charged spirit possession ritual called hau dong, whose ceremonies include singing, dancing and a haunting musical component known as hat van.

 In a series of externally-sourced negatives taken of a village temple and a procession of the village deity, Huy An deliberately collected ‘unusable’ overexposed film. The images are washed-out, almost abstract and the audience is forced, as with all negatives, to see them in the light, peering carefully at and almost through the image, to glimpse the echoes of detail that remain.

Traces of rituals are to be found throughout the exhibition as seen in the thousands of delicate termite wings in Night of Thuong Ngan. At an evening hau dong ritual at Dong Cuong Temple to celebrate the forest goddess Thuong Ngan, Huy An became captivated by a swarm of flying termites, cavorting in the air above the worshipers’ heads, having been drawn in by the temple’s lights. The next day he found wing fragments of the insects scattered in the temple grounds, so he collected them; inert, indifferent yet enduring participants in the ceremony of the night just passed.

A major work in the exhibition in search of Suy Van’s hair is presented in a stark room, filled only with the oral theatre of Huy An’s voice, recounting his ultimately fruitless search for the lustrous hair of a renowned actress famed for her portrayal of the doomed heroine Suy Van. Huy An has always been drawn to the raven hair of Vietnamese women, and as with his earlier work Hair on Table (2005), presented at the 14th Istanbul Biennial, the material acts as a conduit for his meditations on femininity, on the shifting ascendancies of the heroic, the melancholic and the powerless in a woman’s role in society.

With a number of works, Huy An allows only a glimpse of an object, channeling the audience’s perspective down to a narrow focal point, eliminating distraction and visual noise. He sees these objects, or certain details of them, as points of departure, spurring us to deeper thoughts on what exists behind them, and on their cultural and personal resonance.  Born in 1982 in Hanoi, Nguyen Huy An is among the most dynamic and innovative artists of his generation. He has participated in numerous exhibitions and performance art festivals over the em; inert, indifferent yet enduring participants in the ceremony of the night just passed. last decade including Looking for the Divine Beings, Nha San Collective (2017); 14th Istanbul Biennial – SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms, curated by Carolyn ChristovBakargiev, Istanbul, Turkey (2015); Mien Meo Mieng/ Contemporary Art from Vietnam, Bildmuseet, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden (2015); Residual: Disrupted Choreographies, Carré d’Art – Musée d’Art Contemporain, Nimes, France (2014); If The World Changed, Singapore Biennale (2013); sounds of dust (somniloquy), 943 Studio Kunming, China (2011); Anatomy of an assembly line with an error, Nha San Studio, Hanoi, Vietnam; Lim Dim, Stenersen Museum, Oslo, Norway (2009); Tam Ta, San Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (2009); and the Nippon International Performance Art Festival (NIPAF), Tokyo, Japan (2007).

 In 2010 Huy An co-founded, with artists Vu Duc Toan and Hoang Minh Duc, the performance art collective The Appendix Group (Phu Luc). The group has performed in festivals in Vietnam, Singapore, China and Poland.

On exhibition until July 27, 2019 at Galerie Quynh (galeriequynh.com).

Images by Galerie Quynh

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