"Art dolls" are not toys for children. Rather, they are artistic creations that have become increasingly popular around the world. Tran Thu Hang has brought this style of contemporary art to Viet Nam. The artist talks with Dinh Phuong Linh about the many sources of inspiration for her handcrafted dolls as well as her philosophy on life and art.
Inner Sanctum: Most of the stories written about you spoke about the same thing, that you just wanted to play?…
And they also said that I played like a child with her dolls, the dolls looked cute, and so I was kind of successful, didn't they? It is such a simple way of thinking. When you do art, if you love it enough, think about it enough, even weeds can transform into art. I am not a child who is just lucky.
Struggling in a new career, with difficult to take off start-ups, working different jobs to keep my art passion alive, etc. they were all part of my fight to pursue my dream. But I do not take these as real fights, because I fought with pleasure.
Inner Sanctum: How did you change after seven years of making dolls?
It seems the dolls grew up with me. In the initial days, my only wish was to describe the childhood embedded in my heart, in the most naive and unafraid way. The dolls at that time looked rough but soulful.
In the second period, I was more skillful, paid more attention to details, but the feelings seemed faded. The dolls I created had lost their vivid aroma and the feeling of naivety. I temporarily postponed my work at that time and only made dolls on order while trying to learn more.
It was not until last year when I crafted a wooden doll that I realised a huge leap in my work. The doll had a deeper soul, looked softer and livelier. I also made it in a fashion far simpler than before, and I had by then been able to acquire all the skills needed to truly express what I wanted to.
My journey with the dolls might be described like this: I started as a child making dolls, then I was like a grownup who unnaturally looked back at the childhood. Now I am making dolls from my own self.
Inner Sanctum: You don't want to make dolls anymore? You haven't had any doll exhibition since 2011?
Actually, I am waiting for an inspiration that says you must do something no matter what. Something crazy, may be extravagant, but it has to convince me. My view of art is that I must be happy first. Praises be set aside. The important thing is that I have to respect my own feelings.
In the past I thought that I was only capable of making dolls, but I have changed: art should not be wrapped up in solely one form. I have to open my mind to enjoy more and to develop myself. It is not good sitting all day just to carve wood.
Inner Sanctum: Your experience with wood will become meaningless when you start making dolls with another material?…
Why should I care if it is meaningless or not? I am doing arts and I enjoy it. Have you ever been bored learning to play a new game?
Of course I am not playing around like a kid. I will play to my limit and know exactly what I am playing. I will create dolls with such care that even I would be impressed. There are things that the more you look, the uglier you find them. But there are also things that can make you go higher when you see these more and more closely. I want to push my dolls to the limit of beyond flawlessness.
Inner Sanctum: So you are strong enough not to be affected by criticism?
I have a particular habit that I will never let anyone see my work, from the stage when it is still a log of wood. After my work is done, I am open to all criticism and appreciate the constructive variety. Of course I would love to receive praise and do become sad when you don't like my work, but it is only a plus benefit.
Inner Sanctum: Doing art is your way of happiness. But have you ever made dolls when your mood is down?
My opinion is that I don't like art bringing with it a gloomy feeling. I could be feeling low sometimes, but I always want to bring to the onlookers a feeling of happiness. It might be little but it shines, sparkles and brings with it not a feeling of weariness but warmth only. Whenever I am working, I focus 100 per cent into my job. I eat at work, sleep right on the floor when I am too tired. I cannot afford to be distracted by sadness.
Inner Sanctum: I have witnessed a lot of artists feeling constrained in this kind of creativity zone. They said they were not free. How about you?
I have never encountered limits in creativity, perhaps it is because I myself like small and ordinary things. Many artists resort to art when they are oppressed and speak out, but I am different. I only care about humans, about their moods, trying to help them feel happy.
Women's arts tend to be little and empathetic, not something huge and full of grandeur. I like women's arts - soft, simple and close.
Women's voice exists through time because it touches everybody and no one can refuse it. But maybe it is too simple and everyone takes it for granted.
Inner Sanctum: So you want to say that your art means bringing little pleasures to life?
There are people deriving pleasure from acquiring big things, but I am not one of them. Even harvesting a tiny potato can make me happy. Why does everyone have to find their happiness in the form of something material? Living and experiencing petite beauties, I don't think that we need to pursue those that don't even exist. I might be vague sometimes, might want to make a breakthrough to experience some thrills, but I still get attracted to the little tiny forms of happiness surrounding me after finally finding back my inner peace. — VNS