A way to share and manage lots.
Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin
Danh Vo’s art powerfully bridges his own very personal experiences of migration and cultural displacement, with universal issues concerning colonialism, politics and the effects of global exportation and importation not just of commodities but of ideas and popular culture.
Born on the evacuee island of Phu Quoc in 1975, Vo’s early life was shaped by his parents’ failed attempt to emigrate to the United States, their consequent relocation to Denmark and his own decisive move to Frankfurt, Berlin, Basel and later, Los Angeles in pursue of his artistic career. What captured Vo throughout his travels, was the ability to connect with people on a cultural basis – exploring their preconceptions or knowledge on cultures geographically far from their own. Just as his parents had perceived America to be the land of promise and fortune, many people he came across had formed views of Vietnam or Asian cultures through their exposure to media, information, products, and other channels of communication. Thus, in Vo’s works certain prominent symbols or iconic images constantly reappear.
The subtle manner in which Vo juxtaposes these elevated symbols with common disposable materials, creates an interesting dialogue that challenges the hierarchy deemed between ‘low culture’ and ‘high culture’. In this context, Flag is an unequivocal illustration of Vo’s group of works on this subject. Using consumer packaging from Vietnam to form the basis of this work, Vo applies gold leaf to the surface to create his pictures, thus the disparity between the disposable manufactured cardboard and the precious material is vigorously exposed. It is through this contradiction that Vo visualises the conflict between the idealisation of the money-making and commoditised life of the West, with the reality of its manufacture and reliance on the exploitation of resources in distant countries. Alternatively, what Vo does in this work by using gold leaf, is bring to light the transformation of South Asia’s traditions and industries where gold leaf was originally used to imbue certain objects with a sacred sanctity. Now, their trade has become reliant on the cheap production of disposable goods – providing to supply the needs of a consumer-orientated West.
Inverting values as he does, Vo decisively broadens the Eurocentric gaze. Therefore, the power of Vo’s artistic oeuvre, of which Flag is a prominent example, arises out of his ability to synthesise pertinent contemporary issues whilst maintaining a simplicity and clarity in vision that saturates all his works with visual appeal.
London 14 October 2015 7pm