Virtual Installation From Below, Upward

From below, upward
© Manzi

A Virtual Installation by Oanh Phi Phi
Lightwell in Hôm Market, entrance from Huế Street, Hai Bà Trưng District

Located in a populated area of Hanoi, Hôm Market is a bustling marketplace where fabrics, cheap clothing, foodstuff and general knick-knacks are sold. Every square metre of this market is a utilitarian commercial space, except for its sky well. In a sea of things, this little interstitial space is a slice of heaven.

Through this work, Oanh Phi Phi tries to connect some personal memories about space to a collective and inherited nostalgia about sky and water. In her childhood in the coastal plains of Texas, where the land is flat and anywhere you look there is sky filling up most of the landscape, offering up a sense of vastness. After moving to Hanoi when she thinks of home, Oanh mostly misses her parents and the wide horizon.
The artist chose this lightwell to frame the urban space most significant to her: the open air around us and the sky. A microcosm in constant motion, a fish pond or ao nhà is a motif Oanh often revisits for its symbolic place in village architecture and for the nostalgia it brings to many Vietnamese. This is not her own nostalgia for growing up in Texas, but rather an inherited nostalgia from her father who grew up in a small village in Hải Dương. For him, ao nhà was a place of childhood memories, free play and endless time. Oanh Phi Phi embraces his stories as though they are her own, and through these stories and other deeply affecting moments she is connected to this place. Oanh is strangely moved when visiting her father’s village, the construction site where the pond once existed, lighting incense on the bodiless tomb of her grandfather’s resting place on a wet paddy field, though it no longer belongs to her.

The viewer, standing under the lightwell looks through a digital device from below looking upwards to see an inverted pond, something that is usually looked down into. Playing off the bodylessness of augmented reality, the source of this image file is lacquer painting on glass, a surface the artist has used in previous projects to experiment with dematerialisation and projected scale. The ever-changing light on a lacquer image suggests movement even though the image is static.

Nguyễn Oanh Phi Phi

Born in Houston in 1979, Phi Phi Oanh received her BFA at Parsons School of Design (2002) and a Masters in Art and Investigation at the University of Madrid Complutense (2012). In 2004, she received a Fulbright Grant to study lacquer painting in Hanoi. Since then, Vietnamese lacquer has become central to her work, which focuses on its potential as a painting medium to convey memory or reflection, examine current theories of the image and expand into more experimental methods and scale.

Oanh has participated in a number of exhibitions including Pro Se, National Gallery Singapore (2016); Make Shift (2016) and Palimpsest (2014) FOST Gallery, Gillman Barracks, Singapore; A Woman’s View, Goethe Institut, Hanoi (2014); If the World Changed, Singapore Biennale (2013); Specula, Hanoi City Exhibition Hall (2009); Black Box, Vietnam National Arts Museum, Hanoi (2007).