In Richard Streitmatter-Tran's socially conscious work, the artist interrogates diverse facets of humanity: history, colonialism, culture, power relationships, and the environment.Read More
Richard Streitmatter-Tran attended the Studio for Interrelated Media at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, where he focused on performance and new media. After graduating in 2003, he returned to Vietnam and began participating in the art scene there. He established ProjectOne—a now-defunct performance art collective—and was a founding member of Mogas Station, which brought together an international group of artists and architects practising in Ho Chi Minh City.
Richard Streitmatter-Tran's early works addressed themes such as collective memory and war, as seen in the performance and intervention he staged at the Gwangju Biennale of 2004. Gitmo/Satchmo, conceived in response to the exposure of Abu Ghraib prisoner torture and abuse in 2004, saw the artist stitch his lips together and incise the words 'No Exit' on his chest. In the improvised intervention Agents of Orange, the performers wore orange suits and spherical masks covered with American dollars as a reminder of the United States military's chemical warfare programme during the Vietnam War, which had catastrophic effects on both human health and the environment.
In 2013 Richard Streitmatter-Tran began to employ media rooted in craft, and has since experimented with drawing, watercolour, and sculpture. This change came from the artist's realisation that he preferred to be more directly involved with his art production—he wanted to explore the material possibilities first-hand.
At his solo exhibition Departures: Intersecting Modern Vietnamese Art with R. Streitmatter-Tran at de Sarthe, Hong Kong (2017), Richard Streitmatter-Tran juxtaposed his paintings and installations with works by 20th-century Vietnamese artists to consider the ideas of colonial past and self-representation. In The Gates of Hell (Cổng Địa Ngục) (2017), for example, the iron gate's French art deco style and inscription 'École Supérieure des Beaux Arts'—referencing the education of many early modern Vietnamese masters—allude to the French colonial period (1887–1954) and its lasting cultural legacy in Vietnam. Yet the words 'Cổng Địa Ngục' or 'The Gates of Hell' suggests that the tone is not entirely celebratory, but a reminder of the brutality of colonialism.
Human intervention in nature formed the core of Richard Streitmatter-Tran's participation in DISINI 2018, Singapore. His installation, The Orang's Last Stand, consisted of three sculptures of orangutans made from raw red clay and perched on metal beams high off the ground. Exposed to the elements, the work eventually disintegrated. While depicting the orangutan's vulnerability, the artist also used the meaning of the word orang ('people' in Malay) to draw a connection between the endangered animals and the Orang Seletar—an indigenous people of Malaysia struggling to maintain their traditional livelihoods in the onslaught of industrialisation.
In We No Longer See the Stars—his solo presentation at de Sarthe, Hong Kong (2020)—Richard Streitmatter-Tran examined the conditions of life in a world afflicted with political confrontation and social unrest. The relationship between authority and surveillance resonated in works such as Face Off (2015–2019)—an interactive installation that scanned visitor's faces—and Constellations (2019): a pair of acrylic paintings with embedded LED lights that drew comparisons between human facial recognition patterns and architecture. However, Streitmatter-Tran perhaps offered a more positive reading of humanity in 'Bless the Beasts and the Children' (2019–2020): a series of acrylic-on-canvas portraits in which people of various ethnicities assertively gaze back at the viewer with determination and life.
International presentations of Richard Streitmatter-Tran's work have been held as part of the Setouchi Triennale (2019); Thailand Biennale (2018); ART STAGE Singapore (2017); and in Secret Archipelago, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015). He is also the founder of DIA PROJECTS, an experimental exhibition and studio space established in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010.
Biography by Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020