Conversations with artists: The search for tradition in contemporary work

The talk started with Trieu Minh Hai. His typical work is a series of 3 ceramic vases displayed at the glass door at the entrance to BUILDING 2. To be able to create a round ceramic vase, the diameter of which is the size of a hug, with tiny brushstrokes. Minimalist indigo that rotates endlessly around the body of the vase, the artist born in 1982 has been working with ceramic since 2003. He says that pottery gives him the satisfaction of his need to paint on an “endless” pedestal. it is the curved, round surface of ceramic, with the characteristic of three-dimensional space instead of two-dimensional as a picture.

During many years of searching to make a work he liked, Trieu Minh Hai found that the job of creating “contemporary” works from tradition was not as easy as he thought. For example, he originally wanted to paint cobalt blue on ceramic work for white porcelain, but it turned out that creating porcelain white ceramic is very expensive and not feasible for one person who makes small quantities and makes hands like you. So he switched to a soil with a “thanks” color, which had to be incubated, kneaded by hand to control moisture and plasticity to create a satisfactory ceramic shape. But also because of the soil, he had to change the color of the glaze to match, it could not be the color of cobalt oxide as originally intended. So Hai had to tinker to find a suitable shade of green from ancient ceramic vases on display in museums, and then he found the indigo color of Chu Dau pottery. Next is how to “make” dark indigo glaze. Then, making a turntable to stroke ceramic, he learned on the internet that the Chinese style is a counterclockwise turntable, when he reaches Bat Trang, the turntable turns clockwise. Hai then invented a turntable that could rotate in both directions because he had learned and used to work in two directions. And there are many more unspeakable examples of Hai’s attempts and failures in the process of “transforming” the tradition.\

Unlike Trieu Minh Hai who “managed” with pottery for a long time, Nguyen Duc Phuong first “collied” with pottery. To find a new one for BALL 2, Phuong went to Phu Lang pottery village, and immediately got “goosebumps” by the beauty of the broken small crockery (usually used to store the bones of the deceased after being reburied). During the firing process that people here put on the wall, the young ones are on fire, the old ones are on fire, the ones are patchy, the ones are cracked… While the people here look at the small earthenware as an object, the painter looks at them. as objects with life and feelings. From that inspiration, with a temperament that is both idyllic and spiritual, Phuong created a ceramic installation “Van Canh Giai Voi” which stands out in the space of “BALL 2” thanks to a new way of looking at small ceramics, chemicals. solve taboos about the world for the dead.

The small pottery made by Phuong, sometimes inside there is a piece of land, stacked on top of each other, forming an arc as if inviting viewers to step inside. On one side, the cottage attracts viewers with traditional dragon carvings, while the other side is painted with small children’s doodles – Phuong’s drawings. Behind that beauty, the process of recreating the cottages in a “contemporary” way according to the artist’s wishes is a long story. Phuong wanted to create cottages with different color shades and use traditional enamel colors, but traditional enamel is no longer available, now people use chemical enamel. As for the craftsman, they just want to follow the prefabricated mold and don’t want to work hard to classify the soil according to different colors fussy like Phuong. They also do not want to bake in small batches, but have to bake in large quantities for productivity. Ceramic kilns are no longer 1 meter six like the old tools, but 2 and a half meters high. The craft villagers now also apply the industrial nature to the craft. Because the tradition of the craft village had changed, Nguyen Duc Phuong also began to search for what was lost or had very little left. He rummaged through old quarries to find stone that had previously been crushed with an ash used to make yeast. He also manually filtered the soil, finding the source of the old land that people no longer pay attention to.

The story of Vu Duc Trung and lacquer is different from Trieu Minh Hai and Nguyen Duc Phuong. Vu Duc Trung is faithful to lacquer, and traditional paint materials. At first, Trung came to lacquer not because it was the traditional way, not because “it was very Vietnamese”, but because lacquer gave him the closest approach to painting, from the very beginning. Choose a school, choose a major. “And then, he continued to pursue the lacquer genre, because of the randomness, and because of the sense of depth, with its own effects – different from other materials.

“Lacquer has so many possibilities that it cannot be applied to other materials. The randomness when I make a picture is 10-15%, sometimes up to 20%, never draw two identical pictures… Paint is also a difficult material to control; the light phase is one type, the other color is mixed in the other direction; Hot weather and cool weather also produce different colors…,” Trung shared.

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