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January 16, 2017
December 16, 2016
Nguyễn Phi Phi Oanh

SCRY features Phi Phi Oanh's latest series of lacquer paintings on glasses which she has worked and experimented on for years.

Scrying is the act of divination through focused gazing into a glass or reflective medium. In this exhibition, magnifying glasses are used to view the lacquer skins. The title, Scry, suggests the character of the images presented as embracing of ambiguity and visual magic and that they are desperate attempts to grasp what the future beholds.

For this series of paintings, the dimensions of the skins emulate that of a touch tablet screen. Using this visual trope, through lacquer painting, the artist loosely reflects on contemporary imagery—that which new technologies such as drones, digital, satellite, nanotechnology can visualize. They too are a kind of looking glass through which we can grasp our surrounding and material world.

The magnifying glasses augment the illusion of magic in lacquer painting while simultaneously giving away its means of construction. The skins are back lit and front lit to optimize the pure qualities of the lacquer painting that one would not be able to see on another surface.


It seems almost anachronistic today to talk about medium in the context of contemporary arts and painting. However, to me this substance Sơn Ta is much more than an image-making medium. It is a cultural medium that has embodied all of the major dialectical changes in Vietnamese society through the changes in its forms and usage. As painting, tranh sơn mài is part of a history of otherness. Since its invention as painting in Vietnam, it has also constituted a political media embedded within its use issues of identity, national essence and patriotism. In the era of globalization and virtual reality, the use of sơn ta is my own way of negotiating between the extremes of global homogenization and territorial localism. Using lacquer, I hope to broaden the scope of interpretation of this medium and create works that contribute in a heightened way to our experience with seeing and vision. If the qualities of territorial specificity, materiality, uniqueness and environment hold any meaning today, they can be explored in this substance.

- Phi Phi Oanh


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