Under an ambiguous title, installing nuance immediately, Thu Van Tran occupies the gallery for the second time and establishes direct references between her work and the colonial context.
Born in Vietnam but having grown up in France, the artist challenges one of the major economic links between the two countries during the 20th century, i.e. the intensive growing of the para rubber tree, from which rubber is produced. The para rubber tree, for which the first seed was brought from Amazonia by a French sailor, soon became a rich natural resource for Vietnam, but subsequently entailed the occupation of the majority of fertile land by French settlers.
The artist screens a film, which relates her travels to the former Michelin plantations in Vietnam, as well as those, which Ford tried to set up, but failed, in Brazil. This Super 8 film recalls a direct connection, without distance to the filmed subject, but also memories of the not-so-distant past. Tran uses a hidden camera, revealing instants in time, thus creating a fine metaphor for the syncopated rhythm of memory.
The wealth of vegetation is also perceptible in the large photograms made with para rubber plants from both countries, where these wax mouldings are shown three times according to the equivalence principle enunciated by Robert Filliou in 1969: “well done = poorly done = not done”. The artist introduces error and destruction into her sculptural work as a metaphor for the radical transformation or even the contamination experienced by a country.
Another series of three works takes shape with three spirit levels sculpted in wood from the para rubber tree, but filled with water from the River Amazon. What a fine idea to imagine a wild river combining with a measuring instrument that epitomizes balance. The works on the ground allude to the connection between harvest and revolt; the Communist protest movements were largely started among labourers/harvesters exploited by the colonial settlers.
The idea of indelible marks is also recurrent, whether via this large latex stain on the wall, or the impressive series of silk screen prints which, in an abstract way, recall the US Army’s action of spreading defoliants during the Vietnam War. The artist used the six colour codes of the agents (Agent Orange being the best-known) in twelve different combinations to achieve these different shades of grey. Isn’t grey the metaphysical colour par excellence?