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Measuring the world & Random notes on
 'Entrusted conjectures' by Hà Ninh Pham 

an effort to enter 'My Land'
or the swings
like a pendulum between
the two worlds

How much of our perception of the world is shaped by the way we measure it?


Introducing a series of handcrafted sculptures/artifacts designed as measuring and rendering tools, ‘Entrusted Conjectures’ presents new developments of Serie 2 [Logs] as part of Hà Ninh's ongoing world-building project titled 'My Land'(from 2017 - present).


The impulse for these three-dimension physical properties which transcend the visual narrative on the flat surface of paper emerged early and naturally from the drawing project (Hà Ninh had worked on the first sculpture during an artist’s residency he took part in 2018); and sprang from a pure curiosity rather than a calculation for a paradox simulation: ‘My Land’ has its own set of rules and systems, which can only make sense within its territory; so what would happen if these rules were brought out of the periphery of fiction into being of the reality and operated in the real world? What will be triggered, as a result of the collision of these two non-referential logic systems? Such an interesting and challenging hypothesis, isn’t it?


Apparently, as they do not belong to our 'real' world, the displayed instruments would not obey and operate within our known laws of physics. Furthermore, they do not refer to our standard basic units of measurement nor do they use our numeral or symbolic systems - the universality and standardization of scientific perception that we are familiar with are totally useless here. This discordance, however, is not sufficient to deny their functionality. With a defined protocol assigned by the artist (from preparation for input data collection to the instructions for processing the data as well as the guidance on the fixed reference points), the instruments are claimed to be appropriately designed and fully functional. It is quite impracticable to refute this statement, to verify whether the tools are merely useless simulations and measurement results displayed are nothing but imaginary. Nevertheless, we are given a whole reference compilation which includes: detailed technical drawings on paper, meticulous records of measurement results and especially, well-built structures obtained by interpreting and visualizing the output of the measurement. All these realizations will be validated again once the structures return to their original world, firmly positioning themselves on the map (Serie 1) of ‘My Land’ as solid constructions in this territory.

It is perhaps legitimate to assume that the experimentation of moving the metrologic system out of its fictional realm of 'My Land' has provided Hà Ninh an effective method to redefine them and explore new instructions for dismantling, assembling, thus architecting his world. Because:

“When we measure something we are forcing an undetermined, undefined world to assume an experimental value. We are not measuring the world, we are creating it.”

- Niels Bohr <a Danish physicist, who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory, also known for his friendship and spirited debates with Albert Einsteini Albert Einstein>



Further than just a publication of the new developments in his long-term project, ‘Entrusted Conjectures’ is also an experimentation with a ‘juggling - probing’ game on the boundary of two worlds: One side is the [alleged] real world in which we exist, shaped by the international standard for measurement called SI system; while on other side is a [questionably] imaginary world constructed by Hà Ninh based on the postulates & conjectures entrusted by the artist himself. To realize this game, a boundary/border to be challenged/conciliated was built - in the presence of a fortification surrounded by a dry moat, protecting the series of sculptures. This installation established a divided reality, following the creation of the ‘belonging’ & the ‘other’, the inside & the outside. However, such division is not absolute and unchangeable. Rather, the duality & indeterminacy is inherent in the nature of a border / boundary: Sometimes it serves as a bridge to connect but sometimes a barrier to deny the other side; in a case it could benefit an interchange yet in other case, it may hinder any dialogue. Boundaries can be open or closed, immutable or flexible and customizable; providing both protection and detention. Borderlines can be crossed, passed over or be blended and confused. Boundaries also imply a sense of insecurity and a demand for a shelter.


One of the core values of ‘My Land’ is its self-referentiality: “This territory does not correspond to any known culture in human history. It has its own systems of logic, language, and metrology that are functional only within themselves” (from Hà Ninh’s artist statement for ‘My Land’).  Thus, from the very beginning, Hà Ninh had determined that such an absolute rejection is the basement of his whole project and that none of pre-existing frames of reference can be applied here; if so, isn’t it obvious that what’s outside has become insignificant, and the boundary between the two worlds along with entire testing on it here,in ‘Entrusted Conjectures’, is totally unnecessary?


Perhaps, what concerns the artist and urges him to pursue this endeavor is the risks of isolation, or more specifically, the tendency of excessive personal subjectivity - an inevitable consequence of dwelling in one’s own fantasy world for a long time

Hegel once wondered, does the individual in this modern world remain to have any power to shape his own reality? While in ancient times, a person could either be a master or a personal servant to a master, in modern times such a simple relation has vanished, an individual, on the other hand, depends on everyone yet at the same time not on a single particular person. More precisely, an individual now has to rely on an anonymous entity called society, controlled by a complicated network of communication and relationships within his expansive community, kept on being pushed by a collective mechanism running after the goals that are yet to be known by the individual himself.

And here’s the result: An individual, which has always craved for self-determination and absolute autonomy,now is being undermined and reduced down to no more than a pure role - clearly defined and classified according to a system of universal values which is seemingly operating in its own irreversible course. Entirely confined to such invincible frames and boundaries, an individual can choose to protest by actively withdrawing into his own self-isolation (a common choice found in some characters of Kafka's stories). However, following the decision to reside in the personal mystic as an attempt to uphold his self-control, another absurdity would be brought onto the stage: the individual needs to surround himself with a new set of boundaries. Such an infinite loop of paradox! If there is anything capable of unraveling it all, perhaps it must be a [hopefully strong enough]...




a leaf of faith


Let’s try to adopt this perspective in contemplating our mentioned question about the testing on boundaries that Hà Ninh attempted to conduct in this open studio. It can be interpreted that by juxtaposing the autonomy with the self - isolation in this overlapping presence of two worlds (in a limited context of an exhibition space), the artist has suggested a way of navigating beliefs, providing positioning tools for both himself and the audience to access ‘My Land’ without losing our self-control, we can be persuaded or we can refute, or even choose to get lost with doubts.



In his first novel 'Die Verwirrungen des Törless' - 1906 (The Confusions of Young Törless), Robert Musil referred to a mathematical concept:    imaginary unit(i), which is defined by its property i2 = −1, corresponding to a value that does not exist in the set of real numbers. Confused by this abstract concept, Musil's protagonist, the young Törless, a cadet at a military training school, repeatedly asks his math professor to clarify this paradox of imaginary numbers: How possible is that based on an imaginary value, a person can solve realistic problems encountered in daily life and quantify several visible physical phenomena.

It is as if one crosses a river - as Musil described - by an imaginary bridge that does not exist at all. The science in ‘The Confusions of Young Törless’ has become a seemingly massive and solid construction, but when we try to touch and figure out a single brick used in the construction, such bricks tend to “dissolve themselves into thin air". This absurdity stunned Törless and came as a moment of epiphany, he realized that the whole edifice of thought and science, as well as perception of reality (which seemed to have been proven by empirical evidence and clearly quantified in the equation) - turned out to be built from the thin air

Serie 2 [Logs] with its measurement system & rendering function based on imaginary principles is somewhat similar to this paradox of imaginary numbers. Measurement is a cornerstone of science. And science, after all, is just a method that humans try to perceive the reality of the world. Nevertheless,    
"The perception of reality, not being real, is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.(Albert Einstein)

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