Phan Thảo Nguyên is obsessed with literary novels; she utilizes this obsession as a vehicle to examine history in her art. If history is conventionally described as a linear chronicle in books, Thảo Nguyên’s artworks break this linear form of time. They subtly suggest ‘alternative ways that the actual world might have been’ (Davies, David, “Fiction”, Routledge Companion of Aesthetics, page 268). She often extracts a fact, an object or a character from its initial context, placing them in her own fictionalized landscape, in order to open up new interpretations and relationships.
[…] She starts with a ‘fact’ presented in most history books concerning the 1945 famine in Vietnam that caused 2 million people to die under Japanese Occupation, as they forced Vietnamese farmers to plant jute (from the species known as hemp, java jute or kenaf) for military purposes, instead of rice. Rather than writing a textual story, Thảo Nguyên’s deliberately fragmented narrative in this exhibition employ painting, sculpture, video, performance and living material, such as the jute plant. Here, Thảo Nguyên’s broken perspective of history unfolds in the empty backgrounds of the painted series ’30 days of looking down’. Lacking any context of place or time, these obscure paintings look like a diary, where people bend their backs low to the floor as if practicing a ritual performance. (Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran)