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Beyond The Hills

October 2, 2017
September 8, 2017
Lê Hoàng Bích Phượng

Marking her return to silk work after a deviation to ceramics stems, in ‘Beyond The Hills’, Phuong shows a series of delicate silk paintings and a minimalist installation, dealing with the question about concepts of self consciousness, time and personal space 


“he took his last breath and he was gone. I wondered what was going on - did he ever think about what he wanted to do in life for himself? Or was it just to raise the children and make money for the family? At that moment – as everyone was gathered - I saw this landscape, a full moon, above the forest.”

- Le Hoang Bich Phuong – Ho Chi Minh City, August 2017, speaking about the moment her grandfather passed a month earlier.

This dreamscape which materialised in front of Le Hoang Bich Phuong’s inner eye the moment her grandfather passed away is the subject of the delicate silk works that comprise ‘Beyond The Hills’ – a deeply personal series, rooted in her exploration of the Buddhist lineage she comes from.

The new series is underpinned with spirituality that deals with the question that surfaced when she looked into how notions of self, space and meaning are created– where am I me? And in the context of her grandfather’s death: Where Are you between the before and after? What do you experience? How long does it last?

What Le Hoang Bich Phuong attempts to comprehend and capture in her work are concepts of time and space that are in their very nature fleeting and cannot be contained (the present moment) or reached (the horizon). She says of the horizons she paints: “It’s a line, a surface and it is the space where mindfulness lives.” And the same goes for the present moment, “here is tomorrow, here is yesterday and here is now which belongs to nowhere.”

The horizons painted in simple shapes, clean lines and colour choices are a figment of her imagination - a destination that can only be reached in one's mind. And though this place is meant as a space for the mind and the self to rest, the artist is also depicts the disruptions of a state of mindfulness in a way that is subtle yet significant – they render the soft purple (spirit) of her perfect space red (anger), abstract triangles turn from hills into spikes penetrating the full moon and there is a grotesque underworld eating away at the foundation of pristine landscapes.

The Buddhist teaching that suffering is a part of life and to strive towards enlightenment is a quest to be liberated from suffering is present in the work: “How do we accept death and the circle of life and nirvana? You accept that you have to keep living. One afterlife after another, and your accepting that is mindfulness.” (Le Hoang Bich Phuong, Ho Chi Minh City, August 2017)

Le Hoang Bich Phuong’s return to silk work after a deviation to ceramic stems from her discovery that her painting practice is a form of meditation. She paints slowly and calms down, turning to her work in moments of anger to see the emotion transformed. As with her self-portrait in the series, which too is rooted in her being forced out of her personal space by spats with and provocations from those closest to her. But in painting the emotions dissipate, only to enter the next cycle of calm followed by emotional upheaval.

When the emotion changes, the plan I had had, like an angry painting, whichshould be ugly turns pretty and gentle. Sometimes I stop there. Can you freeze a moment in time when painting is the thing that makes it evaporate?” (Le Hoang Bich Phuong, Ho Chi Minh City, August 2017)

In its entirety ‘Beyond The Hills’ is deeply personal work both in subject and its production by an artist ready to listen to her intuition.

Article written for the exhibition by Fabiola Büchele

*This event is part of Manzi’s art programme supported by CDEF of the Danish Embassy in Vietnam



“‘Beyond the Hills’ is a journal of reflections of my most recent personal experiences. Experiences that include the flashes of lighting of loss and the faint remnants of life and death. These works compose a chapter of my psychological diary illustrated during the process of making the exhibition. Also present is the fierce protest of my inner core against a sudden intrusion by another individual of my personal space. My reaction was so strong and all encompassing that even a faint breath of the intruder could boil up my frustration.

My raw sense of self and need for being undisturbed coincided with the passing of a member of my family. At the instance of death I was speechless and drifted into dreams where hills, the moon, and layers of grass appeared.

In this series, I present all of these intangible emotions and experiences in the form of dreamscapes and shapes that provide a visual record of invisible concepts. I was intrigued by figures and forms subject to the rule of energetic regulations like the planets in our solar system - all of them in orbit around a particular centre that imposes limitations forcing them to trace rings. I believed that the proportions of these rings possess a source of energy that in turn protect the core that binds them. If individuals were to be at the centre of such systems of interconnectedness each individual universe would differ in proportion and trajectory – much like a mandala.

Various cultures and scholars have used the concept of mandalas to display an individual’s universe in miniature. The perimeters of such a universe attracts thoughts and energies to gravitate towards its core, while at the same time defining a border which an intruder or visitor crosses when moving into an individual’s personal space. Whether the reaction is to welcome or to expulse and the change in attitude or emotion of the host largely depends on the pace of invasion.

So close are the notions of private and public space in relation to the self that the elasticity of the spherical boundary allows the intrusion to a certain degree before determining whether to expel the invader.

Each individual is a universe, shaped by the discovery of one’s own great cosmos. The protecting rings are increasingly contoured as you encounter other universes and define your ego in relation to them. And for one individual to penetrate the core of another he or she must overcome a lot of personality rings only to discover that each of them is made from the same materials as the rest of the galaxy.


About  the installation work 


The installation represents an individual cosmos with rings around its centre. Limits are defined on the same plane and reflect all the layers covering the core. This personal space is arranged with the same structure as the solar system, with inner and outer rings, the sizes of which rely on each how the work is encapsulated in the exhibition space and how each individual viewer decides to interact with it. And with any intrusion the first steps into the circle is recorded and an alarm is sent to the core.

The recurring depiction of a horizon in my works represents a space between heaven and earth that belongs to neither- it is ‘today’, as it sits between ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’ but can never be captured.

The horizon reflects and senses all intrusion and all personal characteristics revolve around it without favouring of either day or night.

It is here, at this unreachable place that I found shelter, a space free from the obligation of making a choice. Nestling in that space, I can be present in two worlds, without a sense of belonging to either.

And it is here that the dream of my grandfather lives, one that I saw as he slipped from life. I stood on the landscape that materialised in front of me and promised myself that I would capture the image in paintings.


The mandala in my work is narrowed in scope than the images it is based on, which include Jung’s personality chart, Buddhist mandalas and the structure of planets in the solar system. There are parallels among inspirations from science, spirituality and human psychology, but my mandala refers only to the labyrinth at the depth of my psyche, which is at once a tranquil oasis and a room with so many doorways and directions that it is likely I will eventually lock myself in and shut myself away in the room of my own mind. Though from a different perspective, this may enable me to discover a brand new skyline shaped both by surroundings factors and inner conceptions at that particular moment. The self thus is a mandala reflecting itself and the other worlds it encounters.

I am who I am, exactly as stipulated in DNA, but I realized I also hold the key to happiness in the centre of each cell in my body.


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