Galerie Quynh is pleased to present A Dream Of The End At The End Of A Dream, an exhibition by Tuan Andrew Nguyen and Wowy. This highly anticipated show is their second with the gallery, the latest in a wide range of collaborations since 2008’s Quiet Shiny Words/Cultural Doppelgangbangers, where the artists explored subcultures in the contexts of Vietnam and America.
13 years on, the artists’ fascination with the flows of culture and commodity has morphed into concerns for the future: What becomes of Earth when its last man dies? The befogging landscape of a world on the edge of human extinction is rendered as vast, colourful murals, as taut silk marked with blood, as fantastical sculptural forms… The narrative anchor to these varied artistic approaches is the titular film, which, amid apocalypse, centres around an unlikely conversation at a bar. Wowy, in the role of the last man on Earth, plays a drinking game with an unknown entity – one not quite cyborg nor hologram, so “like a God, or something”. The more they discuss the end of humanity, the more Wowy is disoriented. As the scenario unfolds and frustrations build, filmic dialogue becomes poetic verse.
For Tuan Andrew Nguyen, whose practice fuses fact and fiction to create hybrid narratives, and Wowy, among other things a writer and performer of poetry, textual elements maintain a powerful presence in their latest body of work. In Mindmap of Mayhem, the artists’ digital-turned-analogue exchanges are layered on top of a doomsday map, created by “futurist and spiritual visionary” Gordon-Michael Scallion after having had a psychic episode in the early 1980s. Painted text messages – ruminations on “who is guilty?” – are interspersed between Scallion’s vision of a world underwater. As a project mind-map, the meanderings and miscommunications in Mindmap of Mayhem provide viewers with clues to navigate the exhibition that are playful at times, sobering at others. Nguyen relays the question: “can we imagine a world where [...] increased social freedoms and eco-positive approaches that embrace indigenous wisdom [...] may co-exist?” Sculptures, with bamboo rods and incense fanning out from concrete and steel, stand in dialogue – perhaps as answers, perhaps as mere speculation.
Delving further into the possibilities of this “co-existence”, Nguyen and Wowy propose the inherent contemporaneity and futurism of particular techniques, the most salient being blood painting, done here using Wowy’s own blood. Painting with blood dates back to prehistory. In Blood Stains Still Remain and Prayers To The Heavens, painting with blood inescapably dates forward to the future – a means for the last man on Earth to leave behind his will and final prayers. The artists’ application of Wowy’s verses in geometric patterns is humorously self-aware: the canvases may well become indecipherable relics in the vein of hieroglyphics, or crop circles, or even Stonehenge for the beings that occupy Earth after humanity’s demise. The gesture is also a humble acknowledgement that many futures exist beyond the end of the Anthropocene.
A Dream Of The End At The End Of A Dream is apocalyptic, but far from dystopian. The last man lays to rest as the film’s cyborg-deity reminds us: “The end of humanity is not the end of the world”. As we get nearer and nearer the end, the exhibition invites us to imagine a future that holds other possibilities for the objects and spirits that survive us.
The text is part of curator Anushka Rajendran’s proposal for one section of the 2021 Asian Art Biennial in Taiwan. It was sent to Tuan Andrew Nguyen, and coincidentally (serendipitously) appeared on his desktop as he projected his screen onto the canvas in the making of Mindmap of Mayhem.