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Ha Noi artist lavishes some thought on lowly table salt

Update: August, 23/2009 - 00:00

Ha Noi artist lavishes some thought on lowly table salt


Deer lick: 100 salt mountains with perfectly formed domes evoke architectural and religious sites.

HCM CITY — The condiment most used by people all over the world is ubiquitous yet hardly noticed most of the time.

And even when we purchase salt, there is not much thought that goes into it, other than complaining if the always cheap, essential commodity, becomes more expensive.

Hanoian artist Nguyen Phuong Linh makes us look through and beyond this commodity with six works in an exhibit at the Galerie Quynh called Muoi (Salt).

The exhibition features a suite of site-specific sculptures, an installation of stylized flowers created with over 700 articles of used clothing as well as photographs and a documentary video.

Linh said the exhibition is the result of months of research she conducted in the salt villages in Viet Nam, from Hai Hau Beach (Nam Dinh Province) in the north to Sa Huynh Beach (Quang Ngai Province) in the central region and Long Dien Beach (Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province) and Can Gio Beach (HCM City) in the south.

The show’s largest work, 300cm x 100cm x 100cm in size, is titled Thuyen (Boat), solidly constructed using three tonnes of salt.

"This quiet sculpture appears like a stranded boat but also suggests latent dynamism and movement. Reminiscent of passage through the saline seas, it is also a monument to the women and children who remain to work on the salt fields in the north, as the men and young boys are sent to work afar," Linh said.

In Hoa (Flowers) Linh collected used-clothing from workers at various industries, from salt workers to "xe om" drivers to rice farmers and factory workers. She then carefully folded and arranged each article into stylized flowers that adhere the fabrics to one another just as dirt, sweat, and salt intertwine people’s lives. "Salt is a natural element that constitutes our body and makes our clothes look like salty flowers," Linh said.

The 18-minute Salt Project Documentary 2009 tells the stories and images that inspired Muoi, captured during Linh’s research trips into the salt villages of Viet Nam. The farmers talk about the tediousness of salt production, its dependence upon the weather, and how labor and sweat under the heat of the sun causes clothes to easily tear and subsequently require frequent change.

Linh has also created a miniature landscape comprising more than 100 salt mounds of varying sizes in the work named Nui (Mountains).

In Tan chay (Melting), Linh has set a salt pyramid resting on a tray filled with earth. Water drips on to the top of pyramid from above, runs down its sides and is absorbed into the soil.

Eleven photographs present abstracted details of salt fields.

"Salt has its own voices – humid, salty, dissolved and crystallized from nature," said Linh. "I am attracted to Vietnamese salt. It is not as white and smooth as imported salt from Japan or America, it is not like cave salt from India or Poland. Instead, it is a humid salty crystal that still has dirt and soil in them.

"My works are inspired by Vietnamese salt, images that I saw in the salt fields and stories I heard from the salt workers during my trips to the salt villages."

The exhibition, however, is not simply a documentary or a tribute to the salt communities.

Muoi reflects Linh’s continued interest in sexuality and femininity, transformation and the ephemeral. Her work is often both sensual and sexual, humble and exalted.

Born in Ha Noi in 1985, Nguyen Phuong Linh has exhibited and held artist residencies with the Borsa di Studio of the Accademia Albertina delle Belle Arti (Turin, Italy) and Yunnan-Viet Nam Female Artists Exchange programme (Kunming, China).

In Viet Nam, she has participated in group shows like Chewing in 10+ at Nha San Studio, Line drawings at the Contemporary Art Festival of Ha Noi Fine Arts University and To be born at Campus Ha Noi.

Muoi is her second solo exhibition. The first one, A lamp is the place for insects, was at in the Vinh Phuc apartments’ car park in Ha Noi.

Muoi is being presented with support from the Danish Embassy’s Ha Noi Cultural Development and Exchange Fund. The exhibition will close on September 5.

This is also the second exhibition in Galerie Quynh’s Emerging Artists Program initiated to encourage and support young Vietnamese artists committed to practicing contemporary art. — VNS

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