Flat Sunlight

‘Flat Sunlight’ was organised by OUCRU, Ho Chi Minh City with additional funding from the AXA Research Fund, and hosted by ‘The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre’.

‘Flat Sunlight’ was an exhibition that attempted to change our perception and relationship to the natural world we intrinsically rely on and belong to. Lena Bui asked us to think deeper about our spiritual and physical understanding of what was good and bad, useful and useless, of what was assumed natural by marketable standards versus what was natural in nature, in order to reveal the social impact of such attitude on producers and consumers.

After half a year of undertaking field research (with thanks to the Zoonoses Group at OUCRU), living and observing traditional farming life in rural Vietnam, Bui was wary of Globalization and the effect that was having not only on the quality of the food we eat but also its disruption of traditional farming communities where previously livestock was reared as important elements of an integrated family unit.

In this exhibition, she imaginatively alluded to sunlight, an energy all living things are fueled by, but here it was as if the light was constant, without a night and day, and thus the realm of the fake might appear to reign supreme. Thus Bui moved methodically like an earnest botanist cum ethnographer, akin to generations of artists before her who referred to the techniques of science: such as Joseph Banks who accompanied Captain Cook in his journey in the 1700s, documenting flora and fauna, as they ‘discovered’ the land of Brazil, Tahiti, Australia, and New Zealand; or the work of contemporary artists such as Amar Kanwar, Superflex or Kader Attia whose films and installations all employ the mechanisms of ethnography, studying cause and effect.

In Bui’s ‘Vegetable Diary’, she documented various responses (via drawing and interview) to taste and shape depending on the source of where these vegetables come from. In ‘Carefree Grasses’, a live collection of plants typically understood today as weeds were remembered as medicinal, ‘planted’ inside the exhibition space, repleted with Vietnamese botanical texts. In ‘Mandala of Proliferation’ and ‘Sunsets and Spillages’, Bui provided a window onto the landscape of ‘flat sunlight’ where a plastic paradise floated in a layer of glitter and resin, multiplying and forming colonies, resembling bacteria on a petri dish, like artificial land strips on the sea or satellites floating into space. These artificial organisms proliferated and expanded, bubbling like a rash or an ulcer as if bursting the seam of the cyclic order that contained them.

The final work in this exhibition gave us a filmic window onto the everyday life of a Vietnamese livestock farmer. From the eyes of a young girl, the niece, we caught a glimpse of the care and immense labor in rearing such animals as pigs and ducks (where antibiotic resistance was on the rise), but most significantly we witnessed the resilience of such farmers in catering for a commercial market that placed value in the visual appeal of livestock, rather than their quality and health. Throughout this exhibition weaved a series of texts in response to the work on view, written by local Vietnamese scientists and an emerging playwright, as scientific record and artistic inflection.

Bui stated, ‘This exhibition examines the theme of food and our ready consumption of its diversity (both real and artificial), examining how human’s interconnected relationship with nature has, in the past, provided both spiritual and medical aid. Due to this unique opportunity to work with people from different disciplines, I hope to bring a wide range of perspectives regarding our man-made and natural world into the show, to enable discussion surrounding tradition and development, consumption, and the need for moderation, in order to build a healthier environment.’

Showcasing film, installation, and drawing, this exhibition also possessed an interactive science corner; a public lecture series for adults; and art/science workshops for children curated by Dr. Mary Chambers and the Public Engagement team at OUCRU.


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Lena Bùi

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