In her latest body of work, Phuong Linh examines the traces of personal and collective memories and histories. Tied to the history of a given object or place, dust often collects on forgotten and disused objects; the accumulation of dust is a natural index of the passage of time. Phuong Linh’s minimalistic, yet sensuous artworks allude to the past, blurring deeply personal memories and national histories.
The Dust Project, originally shown at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum during Nguyen Phuong Linh’s residency in 2011, includes over 100 images on blueprint paper and an array of tiny, delicate vials containing dust collected from various objects and sites in Vietnam, Japan and Korea. Documented through muted blueprints – a printing method that is becoming obsolete with new technologies – the images include a relative’s altar, a portrait of Ho Chi Minh, bridges the artist has crossed, cracks in destroyed homes, grave sites of soldiers, churches and numerous other sites that have been ruined or forgotten. A book created by Phuong Linh of text and images of these sites complements the dust and the ethereal blueprints. Like the dust Xu Bing collected from New York’s streets following 9/11, the dust in Phuong Linh’s vials are specific to the sites where it was gathered; each vial contains unique dust of varying hues. Through the simple act of collecting dust, Phuong Linh reflects on the importance of revisiting history, retelling stories and renewing hope when all appears lost.
Comprising two tons of white limestone powder, Whitescape resembles a stark, ethereal landscape of fine white dust that has the lightness of powdered sugar. The white limestone powder is manipulated by Nguyen Phuong Linh to form soft peaks and valleys that seem to disappear into the surrounding white walls. Limestone, formed by the skeletons of billions of marine animals over millions of years, is mined throughout the world for construction and agricultural purposes. Bringing to mind mortality, destruction, renewal and change, Whitescape will slowly morph and erode throughout the course of the exhibition.
In Rubber, Soap, Tobacco Nguyen Phuong Linh examines the intersection between personal memory and collective history by using these common products as the raw materials for her work. The work consists of three compressed cubes of each of these widely consumed goods by both the Vietnamese working- and middle-classes. Inspired by the familiar, intoxicating aromas from Yellow Star Rubber Factory, Hanoi Soap Factory and Thang Long Tobacco Factory – three prominent companies established in the 50s and 60s in Hanoi that proudly marked Vietnam’s ability to produce light industrial products for the first time – each dense cube sits on its own iron pedestal and stands strong and stoic like totems of economic power. Despite their minimalistic shape and reference to industrial production, the cubes have a distinctly domestic quality, representing materials commonly found in homes in Vietnam.