Thu Van Tran — Trail Dust


Ceramic, drawing, publishing, installation...

Thu Van Tran
Trail Dust

Past: November 23, 2019 → January 11, 2020

For her first solo show at the gallery, Thu Van Tran has chosen the double-edged title Trail Dust, which conjures up transience and evanescence but is also the code name for the toxic spraying operations carried out by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. The transience of life and the finality of death, the transformation of organic into mineral matter and the infinite timescales of mineralization and petrification processes are the themes of Thu Van Tran’s exhibition — as are her ongoing concerns, whether the importance of materials and the materiality of words and meaning, or the question of whether art can shed light on the atrocities of the recent past.

The exhibition opens with a petrified tropical forest made of bronze titled Novel Without a Title (all works 2019)1. The lost wax process employed to realize it necessitated the destruction of the original leaves by the molten bronze, thereby re-enacting the cycle of life and death. So do the forest’s individual elements: an upright green banana leaf symbolizing the lush plantations of Vietnam towers above brown withered specimens that have fallen to the ground. Nearby, three bronze ingots represent the artist’s raw material. Engraved with the veins of rubber tree leaves, the ingots allude to the long and violent processes of extraction and exploitation of rubber and of the constituents of bronze, an exploitation of nature that subsists in her work in the form of sculptural traces.

Whereas the first room represents the earth, the second symbolizes the sky. Here, clusters of grey ceramic clouds inspired by the steps of Buddhist temples, an ancestral symbol of elevation leading to knowledge, are held up by wooden supports. Titled Holding Up the Immaterial, the work testifies to the sheer weight and importance of immaterial phenomena such as thought, knowledge, imagination and poetry. It stands in stark contrast to Trail Dust, a graphite drawing of dust clouds that have been covered over with hatching lines, as if to erase the memory of the destruction to which the title of the work refers.

Evoking a space for thought and reflection beyond the constraints of earth and sky, the last room ponders the relation between words and meaning. Rainbow Herbicides , a series of drawings from which gush small multi-coloured spurts of paint, is an oxymoronic term that glosses over the herbicides’ deleterious effects2, a work that turns the page on the misrepresentations of the past. The dreamlike installation At a Tortoise’s Pace is a group of thirty-odd petrified grey terracotta tortoises referencing the stele-bearing stone tortoises preserved in the Temple of Literature in Hanoi: each terracotta tortoise has a blank white ceramic page mounted on its shell, a repository for fresh, untainted knowledge that has yet to be conceived. Finally, the Penetrable triptych consists of three framed rubber panels painted with coloured motifs: two of them depict the al-legories of sight and touch, reflecting the artist’s interest not only in the history of materials but also in their texture, beauty and sensuality — and consequently in the senses that enable us to see and feel. The third painting is an allegory of speech bearing indecipherable signs. For Thu Van Tran, signs encompass words and meaning, and it is the encounter between signs, meaning and ideas on the one hand, and materials that are seen and felt on the other, that gives language its potency and brings the work of art to life.

1 A reference to Duong Thu Huong’s eponymous book Novel Without a Name (1991), which recounts a soldier’s solitary trek though the jungles of Vietnam.

2 The term ‘Rainbow Herbicides’ designates the colour-coded herbicides such as Agent Orange used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

Rahma Khazam
  • Opening Saturday, November 23, 2019 6 PM → 8 PM
03 Le Marais Zoom in 03 Le Marais Zoom out

64, rue de Turenne

75003 Paris

T. 01 45 83 71 90 — F. 01 45 70 91 30

Official website

Saint-Sébastien – Froissart

Opening hours

Tuesday – Saturday, 11 AM – 7 PM

Venue schedule

The artist

  • Thu Van Tran