A dialog about Vomit Woman: Mai Nguyen-Lengthy talks to Elly Kent


Artist Mai Nguyen-Lengthy has a conflicted dating along with her Vietnamese heritage, which she has been attractive with via her inventive train because the mid-Nineties. At the moment she spent a yr in Vietnam the place she studied Vietnamese language at Vietnam Nationwide College and the Artwork Historical past of Vietnam and Existence Drawing on the esteemed Vietnam College of Wonderful Arts. Born in Australia, her peripatetic adolescence was once spent in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, sooner than finishing her BA and Masters in Australia, and extra just lately her endeavor a PhD in Ingenious Arts on the College of Wollongong.

New Mandala stuck up with Mai whilst her newest frame of labor Vomit Woman (Berlin Cluster)—drawn from her doctoral practice-based analysis Vomit Woman Past Diasporic Trauma: Interconnecting Fresh Artwork and Folkloric Practices in Vietnam—was once on show on the twelfth Berlin Biennale for Fresh Artwork. An extra iteration of Vomit Woman will likely be on show in Sydney for the primary time along works by way of the esteemed photographer (and Mai’s mentor) William Yang, at Artwork Atrium in October, in an exhibition with the umbrella name Diasporic Dialogues.

The artist with Vomit woman on the Berlin Biennale in 2022. Picture by way of Stuart Horstman, courtesy the artist.

Your earlier works, particularly Pho Canine (2006), Aqua Mutt: an set up with Dag Woman (2007), and The Burning of Godog (2009)—your mongrel canine collection—have handled contested fields of political legitimacy within the Vietnamese diaspora in Australia, incessantly with hectic penalties for you. Whilst those previous works used papier mache, Vomit Woman sees you operating with clay and drawing on Vietnamese đình wooden carvings. What brought on the alternate in subject matter and medium?

After my 2014 “Beyogmos” solo exhibition at Wollongong Artwork Gallery (WAG) I recognised that my complete creative train stemmed from this unsure dating with Vietnam. Particularly I sensed a scarcity. A part of the method concerned reformulating two of the ones papier-mâché sculptural precursors: 2006 Phở Canine Corderoa mongrel censored in 2008’s Phở Canine Blackout —and a 2014 Vessel from “Beyogmos”.

Vessel is the splayed vivisected mongrel canine that set the visible language for exploring irreconcilable tensions throughout layered and fractured realities; additionally it is a metaphor for going underneath the outside.  I built Vessel with used garments proficient by way of my aunties in Vietnam, ripped maps, and damaged mirrors for the histories embedded inside those gadgets. In a similar fashion, opting for fabrics for the biographies they already grasp, Vomit Woman utilises clay’s embodiment of previous and hidden tales carried by way of the burden of human histories, as some way of transferring past “gated” narratives.

Staying in Bát Tràng ceramics village in 2015 uncovered me Vietnam’s numerous ceramic histories. Particularly, Nguyễn Đình Chiến drew my consideration to the clay ritual vessels made in Thổ Hà with wealthy native iron oxide. This clay’s utilitarian historical past is interwoven with its ritual non secular purposes, corresponding to containing illness to offer protection to lifestyles. Within the recent artwork context, ceramic’s recognition as a lowly subject matter reinforced my get to the bottom of to make use of clay to attract out unofficial tales and histories, and relinking with narratives of the đình.

I first encountered đình woodcarvings just about 30 years in the past within the Purple River Delta of northern Vietnam. In 1994 I studied and wrote about them within the Vietnamese language I had simply got as a part of a self-imposed language finding out regime – as I used to be by no means taught Vietnamese at house. The đình woodcarvings that the majority resonate with me emerged all through the Mạc Dynasty 1527-1592. Once I noticed them for the primary time, as untreated woods, they had been climate worn and battle not noted. However the areas that housed them felt dense with spirits and with regards to nature. The woodcarvings had been a revelation, permitting me to believe my Vietnamese heritage past the battle pictures I were saturated with.

Picture by way of Martin Fox, courtesy the artist.

The playfulness of đình woodcarving knowledgeable my clay construction means. Clay and its firing include intensive histories too, processes of transformation, and older mythologies connecting people to earth. This, and clay’s twin energy and vulnerability, furthered its suitability as my decolonising medium to discover chances for non-exclusive traumas.

The hopeful dating that I advanced with Vietnam in 1994 was once challenged after I returned to Australia unwittingly talking Vietnamese with a northern “communist” accessory. I replied extraordinarily by way of “deleting” my studies in Vietnam. This vitriolic come across induced previous studies of rejection I had skilled in Australia. I assumed that during Hanoi I had forfeited my proper to be Asian Australian. I by no means spoke Vietnamese in Australia once more.

Within the đình woodcarvings I discovered playful irreverence and unorthodox expressions of Buddhism that shaped methods to mock and critique authority. Within the sixteenth century, they weren’t made by way of specialist artisans, so the vigorous expression is relatively uncooked. After being scapegoated as communist, I forfeited them from my creativeness, as one thing too shameful to be related to.

Following my “Beyogmos” exhibition, I was decided to go back yearly to Vietnam, and when I used to be introduced a ceramics residency I grabbed it, despite the fact that it was once a medium I used to be no longer in particular fascinated by and had by no means labored with sooner than.

Making those clay Vomit Woman sculptures 23 years later helped me perceive I needed to reconnect with my đình encounters to assist as a gesture of grounding. The other clays I experimented with and the bureaucracy that emerged urged me to analyze the complexities of the importance of mộc mạc.

I first encountered the time period mộc mạc in a 1975 Vietnamese language Hanoi e-newsletter that includes black and white images of sixteenth to 18th century đình woodcarvings. This was once at a time after I may just in finding no artwork books on Vietnam in Australia.

 Mộc mạc is normally taken to imply rustic, tough, uncouth, or herbal, easy. I recall to mind it as earthy: a classy guided by way of sensible ideas of survival, offering a primordial hyperlink to Vietnam’s indigenous nature spirit awareness. I related Nguyễn Phan Chánh’s 1931 silking portray Lên Đồng with the of mộc mạc aesthetic; depicting a Mom Goddess mediumship ritual, the portray’s subdued earthy palette was once fashionable all through the Nineteen Thirties debates on aesthetics in Vietnam. I later realized the Nineteen Thirties was once additionally a time when the struggles for independence from France noticed a upward thrust in fashionable faith all over Vietnam, thus additional linking mộc mạc and Vomit Woman to resistance.

Taking into account additionally the likelihood that đình expressive bureaucracy are related to the pre-Chinese language domination Đông Sơn tradition, mộc mạc as resistance to suppressive sides of Confucian governance larger my fascination with it. On the similar time, exploring mộc mạc via clay invokes its ties with numerous studies of suppression and domination, tempering notions of privileging đình cultural historical past.

Picture by way of Elly Kent, Courtesy the artist.

Privileging the time period mộc mạc in my analysis gestured to religious capability somewhat than Eu artwork ancient views of attractiveness, which decolonial theorists Walter Mignolo and Rolando Vazquez provide an explanation for is inseparable from the colonial matrix of energy. Moreover, referencing mộc mạc during the “lowly” medium of bare clay subverts debilitating disgrace by way of celebrating marginality.

In any case, transposing the mộc mạc of northern Vietnamese đình woodcarvings into clay disguises the supply of my inspiration, difficult the perception that đình woodcarvings are “communist” by way of distinctive feature in their geographic location. I understood sides of mộc mạc as resistance to dominance of aesthetic and colonising kinds of energy—an aversion to superficial “perfection”. Those had been the the explanation why I sought after to include mộc mạc no longer simply as an adjective however as a posh, traditionally located, but marginal cultural thought.

Picture by way of Elly Kent, courtesy the artist.

Via my Vomit Woman bureaucracy I took on mộc mạc on as my very own tool of non secular resistance, but in addition sought to by hook or by crook deconstruct it. My need to construct gadgets to switch erased reminiscences, generate new tales, change into harmful energies, and supply talismanic coverage may just by no means be ephemeral. Via my clay bureaucracy I contemplated the dance between the aniconic and entrapment inside the iconic.

My unglazed bureaucracy don’t reflect đình woodcarvings and they’re every now and then totally abstracted, different occasions figurative. They go between human/animal and even though “woman” by way of identify they aren’t gendered. They’re the messy edges of reminiscence and historical past.

The name Vomit Woman is provocative, and hints at a visceral connection between you and the works. Along the brilliant orange glaze and multitudinous, every now and then contorted figures, the frame and it’s struggling turns out a powerful theme. Provide an explanation for the way you attach your bodily self with metaphysical realisations during the paintings?

 My selection to make use of orange glaze was once knowledgeable a couple of non-public associations, together with the Agent Orange affected foetuses I noticed within the battle museum in 1978, and by way of wider observations within the southern province of Sóc Trăng, the place a lot of my prolonged circle of relatives reside. Vivid colors can also be noticed in a lot of Khmer pagodas and the garish colors of informal boulevard put on. Buddhist priests there put on saffron gowns. I additionally affiliate it with the harmful houses of Agent Orange, and a secondary color shaped by way of blending the colors of the flags of a divided Vietnam (pink and yellow). After a number of months of checking out glazed transparent colors, matt, glossy, on mild and darkish surfaces, blending glazes, and layering colors I remained disillusioned, torn between the “no colors” of mộc mạc, and the ‘kaleidoscopic colors’ of Sóc Trăng and my Phở Canine sculptures.

On one hand, mộc mạc aesthetics verify my đình encounters, the bare clay talking immediately to the expansive histories and narratives suppressed by way of trauma within the Australian context. Then again, brightly colored glazes subvert the disgrace of my “kitsch” Sóc Trăng heritage. In the long run, I incorporated the glazed gadgets in Vomit Woman to honour my Sóc Trăng lineage and the tensions between idea and train in my paintings.

My consciousness of my very own trauma as an intruder, and consequent discombobulation, grew after I encountered Bracha Ettinger’s means of “artworking.” Ettinger explores how artwork generates concepts and the innate qualities that fabrics deliver to a tradition. I used to be interested in artworking’s deconstruction of binary ideas, which was once related to my exploration of reports past fastened narratives. Via this procedure Vomit Woman’s vomit turns into an ambiguous and tongue-like shape. She takes on a couple of names, the dominant being Vigit, my identify for Vomit Woman: Goddess of Inflamed Tongues for all those that have misplaced their mom tongue.

Vomit Woman was once first named after an impulsive pen drawing I made following an intense however undiagnosed bodily sickness in 2014. As she got here to dominate my drawings, I needed to ask uncomfortable questions and excavate the process occasions resulting in what I now perceived as psychic rupture. I realised the supply of my bodily throwing up was once non secular sickness, associated with rejecting my Vietnamese heritage in a context of inflexible communist-anti-communist narratives, which limits house for extra complicated tales of “Vietnamese” identification.

Orange was once the color I selected for my first clay Vomit Woman iteration – from the saffron gowns of Buddhist priests in my father’s place of birth, a will to conquer divisiveness induced by way of pink and yellow boundary-marking motifs, and the continuing destructiveness of Agent Orange.

Picture by way of Martin Fox, courtesy the artist.

Woman references matriarchal techniques mentioned to be dominant in Vietnam previous to the advent of male-centric Confucianism. In Mom Goddess (Đạo Mẫu) ritual practices, feminine mediums can also be possessed by way of male spirits and male mediums possessed by way of feminine spirits, like my unfixed psychological areas when operating with clay.

Thien Do (Đỗ Mỹ Thiện) attracts parallels between the otherness explored within the ritualised dances of the Liễu Hạnh Mom Goddess worshipers with the fluidity of water. The snake accompanying Liễu Hạnh in northern Vietnam mirrors this fluidity. The position of mediumship draws marginalised and oppressed teams corresponding to ladies, homosexuals, and non-binary gender identities. The ritual is physically, somewhat than highbrow or textual.

Those folkloric practices provide some way for communities and folks to create their very own histories, and in my paintings I reflect the decentralised nature of Mom Goddess expressions and their adaptive inventive engagements with a couple of histories and identities. Vomit Woman resists monolithic narratives, her bureaucracy swinging out and in of sure bet. However central to her shape is a will to construct – to be a visual cultural artefact to switch my belief of what has been misplaced. An artefact as a gesture of hope, the hope to herald other tales.

In addition to the animal and human(woman)-like figures, you’ve additionally constructed quite a few bell-shaped gadgets that seem along them. What do those constitute?

I name this cylindrical shape Doba or my đình-bombshell-bell-axis; it’s the structural foundation for all of my Vomit Woman iterations in clay.

In 1994 I encountered a big rusty bombshell in a village within the Purple River Delta. It were repurposed as a đình courtyard bell. Stunned to once more come across this type of bombshell bell in 2015, I followed the emblem as a referential for Vomit Woman’s third-dimensional shape; additionally it is a conceptual pivot to release Vomit Woman’s evolution as a dis/hook up with the đình. I sought after to recognize the bombshell with out amplifying its energy via replication. Translating the steel shape into clay defused its horror. It was an axis the place I may just believe numerous and layered traumas converging, competing to cancel every different out. The markings I later advanced from damaged chopsticks, extracted human tooth, and endangered porcupine quill signified scars of interconnected traumas.

Picture by way of Martin Fox, courtesy the artist.

Right through my time in Vietnam, I interviewed recent artists, and was once interested in Đặng Thị Khuê, Phi Phi Oanh, Nguyễn Khắc Quân, and Nguyễn Bảo Toàn’s subject matter and folkloric investigations. Đặng Thị Khuê shared with me a fascination with how other representations of dragons mirrored divergent attitudes to energy and keep an eye on throughout converting dynasties. I got here to narrate the coil construction means to the computer virus like dragons of the Lý Dynasty (1009-2225), a time the place the flourishing of Buddhism and tolerance for various indigenous cults stimulated the humanities. Đặng Thị Khuê described it as “no longer horrifying or bullying like a Chinese language dragon,” sharply highlighting hundreds of years of aesthetics and identification outlined by way of ancient tensions.

Your paintings in Vomit Woman brings in combination folklore, heritage “crafts” and intergenerational trauma in a procedure that satirically resists and embraces the previous and your individual identification/identities. Do those gadgets have a serve as in the best way that we perceive artwork gadgets to have in “conventional” societies or non secular practices? Are they cathartic?

Past cathartic, I might say they bring about with them inventive methods for transformation and steady reassessment of established wisdom techniques. I’m coming at this no longer as a whole insider nor a whole outsider. I’ve needed to repeatedly query my very own legitimacy within the procedure. Those practices can be offering selection imaginings, in particular in a context the place they’ve been discredited or changed by way of different techniques of “restore”.

Alternatively, like every gadget if it controls you and there is not any stepping again to achieve a crucial belief, then it would similarly be a dazzling mechanism…all of it depends upon context and nuance. Within the context of intergenerational trauma, craft provides me an alternative choice to hegemonic Artwork Historic narratives generated by way of energy constructions supported by way of worry, divisiveness, violence, and erasure. I don’t suggest an change of 1 gadget for some other, however a posh co-existence with contradiction and hypocrisy.

Picture by way of Martin Fox, courtesy the artist.

I’m now extra aware about respecting my previous and the encounters that experience come to outline me, regardless of if they’re meaningless or nugatory to somebody else.

Heritage is what one perceives it to be, if internalised racism is so robust as to enact many years of systematic self-erasure, then it’s no surprise non secular sickness and confusion effects. Occasionally those empty areas are stuffed with simplistic binary narratives as a result of there merely are not any systemic constructions to reinforce complexity.

By way of learning folkloric practices, my figuring out of the convergence of countless complexities was once additional opened. My appreciation for inventive methods of hiding and transformation as method of non secular survival was once enhanced. It has helped me contextualise the variety of lineages inside my very own prolonged circle of relatives, but in addition to start to recognize my very own tale of being Vietnamese or/and Australian, no longer as unsuitable however one thing each interconnected and self sufficient on the similar time.

Ingenious methods embedded in heritage—on this case folkloric practices in Vietnam—introduced me other ways of pondering, feeling and imagining past binary narratives. My doctoral analysis emerged from an pressing wish to discover a couple of interconnected traumas. Loss is a chance to re/create. That is the gap the place Vomit Woman has emerged, past diasporic trauma, interconnecting recent artwork and folkloric train in Vietnam.

The artist putting in her paintings at Artwork Atrium in 2022. Picture by way of Stuart Horstman, courtesy the artist.

Works from Mai Nguyen-Lengthy’s Vomit Woman collection can also be observed at Artwork Atrium in Sydney from 8-22 October and within the Woollhara Small Sculpture Prize from 13 October to twenty November.



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