Truong Cong Tung: Between Fragmentation & Wholeness

Truong Cong Tung, The Flags of Red Soil
Truong Cong Tung, Across the forest.
Truong Cong Tung, Traces of Infinity, 2018.
Truong Cong Tung, Flag of Red Soil, 2017-2018.
Truong Cong Tung, Across the forest
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Video Art Asia by COBOSocial.com

Truong Cong Tung (b.1986) grew up in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, a region known for its ethnic diversity, its highly fertile soil and numerous plantations. Recently, with the industrialisation of the territory, the local landscape is undergoing radical changes with a rapid deforestation and a land intensive exploitation. Tung’s multimedia artworks address this complex shift both from the nature and from the human perspectives, when nature merges with artefacts and when traditions are waning, replaced by new systems of beliefs and modern customs. While the artist acknowledges the social and cultural costs of these deep transformations, he is focusing on the innovative hybridity that emerges from the process at work.

TEXT: Caroline Ha Thuc
IMAGES: Courtesy of Galerie Quynh and the artist

Truong Cong Tung, The Flags of Red Soil

 

The exhibition Between Fragmentation & Wholeness is the outcome of a long and close collaboration between Tung and curator Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran, who have been engaged in a constant dialogue for years. Their complicity results in a thoughtful occupation of the space: from one room to the next, the works are responding to each other, linked by the persistent smell of soil, that contributes to create a coherent whole despite the configuration of the gallery, spread on three floors. Scattered objects are installed in every corner of the space or in hidden locations, while a huge and vertical installation occupies the lift area. These curatorial choices reflect Tung’s conception of reality, composed of a moving multitude of fragmented pieces that continuously adjust and interact to form a consistent wholeness. The title of the show refers actually to a theory developed by American scientist David Bohm who precisely aims at finding a coherent approach to what “has been broken up into bits”[1] by society and by our ways of thinking, an attempt very close to the artist’s whole practice.

In the entrance of the gallery, hanging from the ceiling, a hybrid creature welcomes the visitor. The story goes that this demon, named the “hybrid ghost”, is always hungry. He can detach his head from his body to search from food, but because he lost his body connection, he can never be full. An amalgam of natural and artificial found elements from beehives to satellite antenna, cicada shells and prayer beads, the head is impressive, eclectic and surrealist: one feels this demon is indeed insatiable, swallowing everything he meets on his way. It seems to mirror our society as a set of fragmented junk objects and a combination of an uprooted nature and technologies. The structure of the head is actually made from coffee tree roots, now dry and flying in the air in an absurd way.

 

Truong Cong Tung, Across the forest.

 

Traces of Infinity (2018), the installation of the ground floor, and The Flags of Red Soil (2017-2018) on the second floor, are offering two different perspectives, confronting human and nature’s interventions: Tung likes to constantly blur the lines between his gesture and nature’s creation, emphasizing their similitudes and synergies. In the first installation, he has collected fertilizer plastic bags dropped on the ground by the farmers. After years of such a practice, the bags have been incorporated into the soil, creating a new surface on the land. Washed by the rain, eroded by time and soaked with the red local basalt soil, they have become so thin that their texture resembles human skin, as if plastic could turn organic. Tung has covered the walls of the gallery with hundreds of them, from the floor to the ceiling. On some of them, the artist has inscribed in golden letters “from the primitive to the civilized” to reflect on this process of appropriation. In the second floor of the gallery, the artist presents a series of silk rolls hanging from neon tubes, where the pieces of silk respond to the plastic bags. Tung has buried them under the red soil for months, so that they can absorb the elements of the soil and be transformed by nature. The termites have eaten some of the pieces, while water streams have eroded parts of others. This time, nature appropriates human artefacts. Unearthed, they become the uncanny flags for a lost culture.

 

Truong Cong Tung, Traces of Infinity, 2018.
Truong Cong Tung, Flag of Red Soil, 2017-2018.

 

The opposite space is a dark room that would seem to be inhabited by ghosts. On the floor, the artist has installed cylindrical pieces of soil that have been extracted by machines drilling groundwater in order to irrigate coffee plantation trees in the Highlands. These unexpected artefacts lie about randomly, useless and abandoned among rectangular plates where short sentences have been engraved, such as “the soil of exile”. An eerie music, composed of distorted sounds collected by Tung from documentaries about the region mixed with natural sounds of insects or howls, is pervading the room. On the walls, and on the floor, moving images show parts of the local landscape, daily life scenes and rubber gleaning. The videos are shot at night and the colours are thus slightly faded, strengthening the ghostly feeling that dominates the whole installation. Most of the time, insects are invading the screen, attracted by the light of the camera, mixing their body with the background. Human interventions are hence constantly confronted with an animated nature, overlapping, and mutually shaping the environment.

Tung’s landscapes seem to have been deserted by human beings who only left behind them their cult objects and traces of beliefs. Their presence, though, haunts the rooms. Most of the local people from the Highlands have lost their land, their job and places of worship. These issues are common in many countries in the region, where minority communities are vulnerable to illegal land grabbing and intensive land exploitation. Tung addresses subtly this issue together with another similar massive population displacement that took place in Thu Thiem, an urban era in Ho Chi Minh City where a new mega city planning project has been developed, leading to massive forced evictions. In the huge vertical lift era, the artist hung found objects from this urban zone, including a discarded propaganda poster that stands as a paradoxical symbolic ruin: on the one hand, its decay hints at the deterioration of the socialist political power after decades of capitalism; on the other hand, its mighty presence in the space embodies its symbolic resistance since despite time and waning, everyone can still immediately recognize it. Political beliefs are here overlapping with beliefs in modern life and technological development.

 

Truong Cong Tung, Across the forest

 

During the opening, each time a newcomer entered the gallery, a musician hit his drum, creating an irregular yet tireless rhythm that resembled a disorganized heart beat. On the last floor, a trumpeter played a funeral and heady song. For the artist, traditions are dying, both in reality and in the imagination of people. While Vietnamese traditionally tend to live in harmony with nature, and consider being parts of a same entity, the ancient and deep links with nature have been broken. Yet the global impression of a deep loss cohabits with the artist’s witty spirit: Tung never wallows in the transformation of his homeland by the process of industrialization and by the logic of capitalism. He rather observes the transition and reflects on the symptoms of these environmental, economical, social and cultural changes. Moreover, the artist does not consider himself as a witness but as a middleman, like a shaman, who unites the land, objects and people in a consubstantial relationship: he believes that through art, the found objects speak by themselves and irradiate, connecting the viewer with their spiritual reality. Nature and artefacts are not anymore passive or inert but endowed with interiority and spirituality.

 

 

About the Artist

Trương Công Tùng was born in 1986 in Dak Lak, Vietnam. He graduated from the HCMC Fine Arts University in 2010 with a degree in Lacquer Painting. He is interested in experimental ways of making forms such as how to use paint with different mediums to achieve different effects. In addition to San Art, he had also shown in places such as Himiko Café and the HCMC Fine Arts Association in Ho Chi Minh City.

 

 

Truong Cong Tung – Between Fragmentation & Wholeness
Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
On show till June 30

 

 

[1] See David Bohm video “Wholeness & Fragmentation” a short excerpt from his presentation in Amsterdam in 1990, as featured in the documentary “Art Meets Science & Spirituality in a Changing Economy”.

 

 


 

Caroline Ha Thuc is a French Hong Kong based art writer and curator. Specialized in Asian contemporary art, she contributes to different magazines such as ArtPress in France and Artomity/Am Post in Hong Kong.

Prior to moving to Hong Kong, Ha Thuc spent two years in Tokyo and published Nouvel Art Contemporain Japonais (Nouvelles Editions Scala 2012) about the post-Murakami Japanese art scene. Her book Contemporary Art in Hong Kong (Asia One, 2013), which was first published in France (Nouvelles Editions Scala, 2013) provides essential keys to apprehend the city’s vibrant contemporary landscape and exposes the countless links between art, history, culture and identity. She recently published a book about Chinese contemporary art analysing the interactions between the art scene and China’s rapidly changing society (After 2000 : Contemporary Art in China published in French language Nouvelles Editions Scala, France 2014 & MIP, Hong Kong 2015 for the English and comprehensive version).  

As a curator, she focuses on promoting dialogue between artists from different cultures, while reflecting on social and political contemporary issues. Her recent exhibitions include Radiance (French May, Hong Kong, 2014), Hong Kong Bestiary (Platform China, Hong Kong, 2014), Shelters of Resistance an in-situ installation by Kacey Wong in the courtyard of the City Hall (YIA Art Fair Paris, 2015), The Human Body : Measure and Norms (Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong, 2015) and Carnival (Hong Kong February 2017). She is on the International Curatorial Advisory Board of the Open Sky Gallery in Hong Kong and curated the 5th Large-scale Urban Media Arts Festival, 2016.

 

 

 
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