Artist twins overcome ‘sadness of war’ in latest exhibition

By Linh Do   September 5, 2021 | 01:48 pm GMT+7
Artist twins overcome ‘sadness of war’ in latest exhibition
Le Brothers Thanh and Hai at work in their studio in Hue. The identical twins’ special connection allows them to collaborate seamlessly. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Phong
In their latest project, initially titled ‘The Sadness of War’, well-known identical twin artists the Le Brothers take the topics of war and violence to their aesthetic end.

The Le Brothers’ initial intention was to engage with issues like war, violence and memories, but they gradually turned away from such dark subjects to something brighter.

This is the assessment of independent curator and art manager Nguyen Anh Tuan, who is curating their latest exhibition at Mo Art Space, a recently opened art venue in Hanoi.

The project, now called ‘Illusion’, comprises 19 paintings and six large ceramic vases featuring intricate and interacting layers of figures and patterns that evoke war and culture, ranging from ancient buildings in Hue, carvings on the Nine Tripod Cauldrons - a proud symbol of power of the Nguyen Dynasty - and ancient and modern weapons, to fire clouds and waves, bars and geometrical shapes also inspired by carvings in royal architectural works and other objects.

Begun in 2017, ‘Illusion’ is the latest work by Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai, who are known for their life-long interest in the themes of war and history and national and personal identities, an interest quite common among artists of their generation from the war-torn central region, though perhaps not as persistent as the brothers’.

A joint 200cm x 320cm lacquer-on-canvas piece they created later for the ‘Illusion’ project and featuring a bright full-blown vision as against earlier works showing a more violent black and white contrast. Photo provided by Le Brothers and Nguyen Anh Tuan

A joint 200cm x 320cm lacquer-on-canvas piece they created later for the ‘Illusion’ project and featuring a bright full-blown vision as against earlier works showing a more violent black and white contrast. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Phong

Born in Quang Binh Province in April 1975 just days before the Vietnam War ended and the country was reunited, and later studying lacquer and oil painting and working in Hue, the pair had opportunely and consistently explored what it means to separate and reunite.

Working with various media ranging from painting and installation to performance and video art, the brothers have taken part in numerous international exhibitions, art festivals and events with projects such as the 2011 film ‘Cham Toi Bien’ (Into the Sea) being recognized as important contributions in their fields.

Tuan says the 2013 Singapore Biennale for instance devoted a considerable amount of time to introduce ‘Into the Sea’, a 21-minute triple-color channel video which features beautiful natural scenery from Quang Binh to Hue, and in which the brothers’ twin personas embark on a journey to find each other, their homeland and themselves.

In 2019, in what was considered an unprecedented effort by four major public art museums in Vietnam to collect contemporary art, the newly established Hue Art Museum acquired a copy of this work, which had earlier been recognized and collected by other notable institutions such as the Singapore Art Museum and Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum in Thailand.

In collecting ‘Into the Sea", the Hue Art Museum also wanted to honor the artists, who in 2008 established one of the first artist-in-residence programs in Vietnam called New Space Arts Foundation.

The duo’s latest ‘Illusion’ project, first exhibited in Hue last year, is also a tribute to the former capital, "a glorious home of art and culture" which they say deserves a new vision of truth, goodness and beauty rather than just its people’s painful memories of wars.

As in their other works, their trademark synchronicity of style is also seen in ‘Illusion’.

According to Tuan, who has known the artists for over 10 years, though there are quite a few other pairs or groups collaborating closely, the Le Brothers’ especially intimate connection allows them to paint seamlessly together, with one working on the first layer and the other continuously and spontaneously interacting with it to create the second.

Some ‘Illusion’ works on display at Mo Art Space. The exhibition will reopen after the current lockdown ends. Photo provided by Le Brothers and Nguyen Anh Tuan

Some ‘Illusion’ works on display at Mo Art Space. The exhibition will reopen after the current lockdown ends. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Anh Tuan

This joint productivity, with Thanh being more meticulous and Hai more experimental, has given birth to works that can stand either on their own, or together in seemingly endless dialogues between different kinds of polarities such as the edgy and concrete first layer of paint versus the more abstract, blurry and "illusionary" quality of the second, the earlier phase featuring intense black-and-white contrast versus the later phase’s softer, brighter and more harmonious colors or the two-dimensional paintings versus three-dimensional vases.

In particular, the Le Brothers’ adaptation of high-flown patterns on traditional paintings, which are framed and displayed in a somewhat distant and respectful manner on walls, to familiar everyday objects such as vases, which people in the central region use to store items ranging from water to rice, brings art closer to home, Tuan says.

The artists plan to continue to adapt their ‘Illusion’ theme to various media such as video art, installation and sculpture. The exploration of painting on vases will also be expanded to other items such as beds, wooden planks, chairs, cupboards, and trays in an ongoing effort to make art accessible and "at once with audiences" as they hope.

Temporarily closed, the exhibition at Mo Art Space will resume after the current lockdown ends.

 
 
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