‘Poetic’. ‘Moving’. ‘Multi-layered’. These words have been used to describe Thao Nguyen Phan, who brings her work to the pretty coastal town of St Ives in spring. Expect a thought-provoking and emotional journey at this acclaimed Vietnamese artist’s Cornwall exhibition.
Between 5 February and 2 May, the world-famous Tate St Ives gallery plays host to Phan and her work. Visitors can expect to be greeted with creations that mostly hail from the past five years and that span a variety of media including video, painting and sculpture. The backdrop to the artist’s work is her homeland of Vietnam and she often contextualises the historical and ecological issues that face her country and its people. There’s a real emphasis on amplifying hidden voices and employing storytelling techniques that shed light on the unofficial histories of the nation, as well as its many individual perspectives.
Phan has a unique talent for discussing ideas and issues that surround tradition, ideology, ritual and environmental change. The latter gets heavy attention in pieces that tackle the loss of habitats along the Mekong River. There’s some tough and universal messages to glean when it comes to this river which has sustained life for thousands of years but has changed rapidly due to pollution, dredging, irrigation and over-fishing. While her work is challenging, though, Phan does offer hope in the form of indigenous knowledge and practice.
As you’d expect from the Tate St Ives, the gallery space promises to be a spectacle in itself, adding to the tension and beauty of Phan’s work. The exhibition area is transformed by an installation of hanging jute stalks that can be walked through, dividing the artist’s film and non-moving works. Visitors can, of course, also enjoy the other exhibitions at the Tate St Ives after they have seen Phan’s show. And they can top it all off with an ice cream and contemplation session as they stare out to Cornwall’s own nature from Porthmeor Beach just outside.