Thu Van Tran’s works construct an open space in which the history becomes manifested in nature. Each social action leaves traces in history and scars in nature. A tree is a silent witness that lives through events and never forgets. Nature senses, registers, and archives things. The works of Thu Van Tran visualise nature’s memory: trees lying on the ground as if buried, canvases covered in natural rubber, works on paper with a colour scheme that’s heavy on symbolism. The symbolism of the materials she uses plays an important role in the artist’s work. It is her language with which she records cultural and historical events. Born in Vietnam and raised in Paris, Thu Van Tran depicts the sublime goings-on of the twentieth century in a poetic, narrative installation.
Much like Caspar David Friedrich, Thu Van Tran always looks for augustness in nature. Both their works are full of magical beauty and somber melancholy. Friedrich used the natural symbolism of landscapes to address the fate and suffering of human beings. Thu Van Tran also endows mountains, trees, sunsets, and sunrises with a narrative voice. Similarly fraught with emotion as the work The Sea of Ice from 1823/1824, Thu Van Tran’s Rainbow Herbicides examines the sublime, overpowering quality of nature. A huge cloud spans the entire image and lets the viewer guess whether it is an explosion, a cloud, or a volcano. The six colours applied on the canvas in a spraying technique give the work a bright dynamic and, at the same time, let us glimpse into a darker time in our history.
The work group Penetrable, which premiered as a wall installation at the 2019 Art Basel Unlimited, also tells a story in its abstract language—a story of rubber trees, colonial exploitation, and its aftermath. Pigments were mixed with the milky latex from rubber trees and applied in thick layers to the canvas. When the latex had dried into a rubber layer that covered the canvas like a second skin, the artist pulled it off. The pigments left waterproof traces on the canvas, forming an abstract, monochrome composition that displays a wide variety of subtle colour nuances. All of the artist’s works are devoid of people, yet they deal intricately with human presence. The exhibition title, H as HOMME, refers back to the etymology of the words and queries human action.
Thu Van Tran’s work has been exhibited at Centre Georges Pompidou, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the 57th Venice Biennale, and Neuer Berliner Kunstverein in Berlin, among others. Next year will see a solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo. Her works are included in international, public, and private collections, including the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris, the Kadist Foundation in Paris/San Francisco, the Lidice Memorial, the Josée & Marc Gensollen Collection, and the Vehbi Koç Foundation in Istanbul.
Text by S.Sokolov. Courtesy Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle.