Published and commissioned by the Centre, Voyages de Rhodes re-assembles into a book format watercolour drawings painted directly by the artist on the pages of a found publication. The artist used as her canvas a book by French Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes (1591–1660) that describes his travel experiences and observations, including in the region of present-day Vietnam, during the seventeenth century.
Phan’s interventions in the book interweave different narratives that sit at the border between realism and fantasy. Reflecting upon the problematic agrarian reforms in post-war Vietnam that led to the redistribution of land and collective farming, Phan’s drawings depict children in the foreground as protagonists of an imagined commune where play or state of inertia become tools of defiance and escape. Juxtaposing seventeenth-century travel literature with contemporary images, Phan’s works produce a palimpsest of Vietnam’s history with layers of voices from the present and the past.
The artist started the project Voyages de Rhodes in 2014 and the drawings were first exhibited in a solo exhibition Poetic Amnesia (2017) curated by Zoe Butt at The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
In the process of assembling the drawings back into the codex form, the project Voyages de Rhodes turned into artist’s book, whereby the book format is an artistic medium and subject of investigation. Voyages de Rhodes highlights that a book remains inherently open-ended despite its strive for completeness, and is prone to processes of erasure, ongoing interpretation, and new associations.
Thảo Nguyên Phan: Voyages de Rhodes
Published by NTU Centre for Contemporary Art
Design by mono.studio
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