Thao Nguyen Phan, Reincarnations of Shadows, Installation view, 2023 / Courtesy of the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca / Photo Agostino Osio
Thao Nguyen Phan: Reincarnations of Shadows
Sep 14, 2024 – Jan 14, 2024
Pirelli HangarBicocca
Milan, Italy

Thao Nguyen Phan (Ho Chi Minh City, 1987; lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City) has developed a visual language in which pictorial matter, acting as a conceptual, narrative, and connective element, combines with different media and supports, from textiles to printed books. In her videos, painting comes alive, creating a dreamlike imagery in which folk traditions, fairy-tale narratives, literature, philosophy, and everyday life merge. The artist traces Vietnam’s turbulent historical events, reflecting on environmental and social changes related to human impact, such as the exploitation of natural resources and the destruction and colonization of the landscape.

Reincarnations of Shadows is the first solo show first dedicated to Thao Nguyen Phan by an Italian institution. It includes new productions and presents a series of installations, watercolors, sculptures, and videos by immersing the visitors in the artist’s delicate oeuvre. The title of the exhibition takes its cue from the new video, Reincarnations of Shadows (moving-image-poem) (2023), commissioned by Pirelli HangarBicocca and co-produced by Fondazione In Between Art Film. Delving into the figure of artist Diem Phung Thi (1920-2002) – one of the first Vietnamese modernist women sculptors who lived and worked between France and Vietnam – the video reflects on the social meanings of art history and architecture and the intergenerational relationships between women artists in post-colonial contexts. Phan questions the possibilities for the reincarnation and re-signification of hidden symbols, gestures and rituals that have remained in the shadows, passed down through whispered oral narratives and often overpowered by the lingering effects of colonialism. The idea of reincarnation pervades all of the artist’s work, partly due to the presence of recurring visual and sound elements. Through an approach reminiscent of the Buddhist religion, the artist does not seek conclusive goals or results in her practice, but turns each project into a kind of living organism that can readjust, mold and take on new forms.

The exhibition is divided into two communicating and permeable areas: the first traces the artist’s career from a new perspective through the overlay of canvases, screens, and moving images. The visitors are confronted with the central themes of Phan’s practice: the relationship between humans and nature; the colonization of Vietnam and its social transformations; the cultural intermingling of East and West, tradition and modernity, locality and globality; and the combination of memory, folklore, and myth to create collective narratives as an alternative to the official historical accounts imposed by dominant political forces.

The second environment is dedicated to the new production that gives the exhibition its title,  Reincarnations of Shadows. Accompanied by a selection of Diem Phung Thi’s sculptural works from the 1970s-90s – which inspire the exhibition’s seating and display tables – the video installation celebrates the career of this artist, a fundamental figure to the history of Vietnamese Modernism.

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