"No Name is a name", 2019
Sculpture, Video, Installation
Location: Kunst(Zeug)Haus, Rapperswil-Jona, Switzerland
The starting point of this series of works is an aluminium basin, which was a gift of the artist’s parents’ wedding in 1991 and has been used in the family ever since. In the ’90s, Vietnam’s economy gained stability after the post-war economic reform; objects were given as presents and treasured both physically and intangibly. Hereby the basin gains its significance from fragments of the childhood memories in which it was involved in daily activities such as bathing, washing clothes, cleaning vegetables, or collecting rainwater. A bar of soap, similarly held multiple purposes: from washing one’s hair and face to cleaning the entire body. These daily objects embody memories of the artist’s family, especially her Mother, resonating with the roles traditionally attached to a woman in the family.
The object which inspired the artist (aluminium basin) and her choice of material for creating her sculptures (soap) presents an intended discrepancy. While the wear and tear of the basin through prolonged use is registered superficially as dents and scratches, soap embodies this symbolism with its ephemeral qualities. The soap ‘basin’, unable to withstand an actual basin’s intended use; the accumulation of time and space together with the woman’s burdens, too, solubilised and washed away. The artwork is undertaken through grating the soap into tiny bits, shaping them, and waiting for them to dry. The traces of all the pressing, squeezing, and folding on the inside of the basin appear as imprints of the “labour” that once marked the original object. The arduous process demonstrates the artist’s patient retracing of the past through her thinly scraped memories in order to seek a final, visceral form.
After many years living far from home, after all the contemplation on the distance in miles and minds, after the confrontation with reality as well as the recollection of a far-away past, it all cumulates as the shape of a basin of her parents’ time. Her past contains the basin. The basins contains the female figure. The artwork serves to contain/measure/store the essences of the original aluminium basin despite it being an artwork un-finished, halfway between dreams and reality as the subject’s memory.
“No-Name” in the title is the identity engraved on the gravestone of Xuan Ha's siblings—ones that died inside her Mother. “No-Name” yet is not nameless. Regardless of their flimsy existence that popped like bubbles, regardless alive or late, they all once lay inside one "basin", shaped and bond by the same blood. Their second lives exist in subconscious, shaped in the invisibility.
And finally the hair at the bottom of the basin might be the last thing Xuan Ha remember (or not). Why would it be the last thing? Because where the hair falls never becomes a question. Only we know (some) where the hair has fallen. Simple as that. Quiet as its sound. Invisible as the love of a Mother.
Written by Xuan Ha
Translated by Dang Bui
Edited by PG Lee
© 2019 Nguyen Vu Xuan Ha
Work in progress.
No Name X.
Material: soap, poem writing by ink