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Vietnam artist promotes jackfruit-wood houses to the world

Thursday, January 26, 2017, 14:06 GMT+7

A Vietnamese multidisciplinary artist who has made an international name for himself with his contemporary oeuvre over the past decade is now keen to bring his housing model of jackfruit wood to the world.

Bui Cong Khanh, 45, was one of the first local artists to gain an international reputation in the 1990s.

His contemporary artworks using various materials have made their way to exhibitions across the globe over the past ten years.    

One of his latest projects, Lac Chon (Dislocate), which features a housing model elaborately built from jackfruit wood, drew more than 4,000 visits when it was displayed at the Factory Contemporary Art Center in District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, in June 2016.

Jackfruit wood, which is termite-resistant, waterproof and less prone to curvature, is commonly used in carving statues for worshipping purposes, particularly those of the Buddha, as well as handicrafts and interior décor items.

Lac Chon has also been shortlisted to participate in the 5th Singapore Biennale, Asia’s most exciting contemporary visual art exhibition.

The Singapore Biennale 2016, which is taking place from October 27, 2016 to February 26, 2017 at Singapore Art Museum, presents a constellation of artistic perspectives by 63 artists and art collectives from Southeast Asia, and East and South Asia, according to its website.

The artist is also poised to showcase his brainchild in Japan and the U.S. later this year at the invitation of art and cultural collectives.

Khanh likened the central structure in his Lac Chon project to a bunker, which is deliberately left incomplete.

The ‘bunker’ adopts the sophisticated imperial architecture of Hue, the country’s former capital located in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue, and conveys the concept of defense, as the fortress has only one entrance, with its roof sloping to reach the ground at one end.

The artist ingeniously blends antique with contemporary details by literally taking apart the frame of a traditional home in Hue and enriching it with sophisticated structural and decorative elements of his own.

The richly theatrical installation also highlights four miniature Buddhist pagodas perched atop tall square plinths which are doused in penjing, a time-honored Chinese Daoist art which places potted plants in a minute landscape setting to represent the four seasons.

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Khanh told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper in an interview that his choice of jackfruit wood came from its intimate link with Hoi An, home to UNESCO-recognized Hoi An Ancient Town in the central province of Quang Nam.

The town represents a charismatic blend of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese cultural elements.

Lac Chon is thus an entrancing combination of techniques to build jackfruit-wood ruong houses, which are a long-standing fixture in Hue, Hoi An and other localities in the central region, traditional carpentry and wood carving with modern touches.

The reproduction also helps preserve and promote the country’s traditions to the outside world and spread environment-friendly messages, its creator noted.

Born in 1972 in the central city of Da Nang, Khanh spent most of his career creating paintings before making a seamless transition into his current multifarious practice, including sculptures, woodwork, installations, and videos, on an array of materials, mostly jackfruit wood.

It took him two years to delve into the history and culture of Quang Nam Province and Hoi An City in particular.

He encountered immense difficulty persuading local carpenters to incorporate traditional carpentry into contemporary works, a prevailing trend in the world.

Upon his graduation from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts in 2002, he visited hallmark Thanh Ha Pottery Village in Hoi An City. 

The village’s craft items back then were limited to plain-looking earthenware.

Khanh suggested artisans create larger items, add decorative patterns, and perforate the surface to produce earthen lanterns.

The lanterns have since been in good demand and made charming ornamental items at local resorts and hotels, thus providing stable jobs for local artisans and workers.

Khanh disclosed he is searching for a site to offer long-term training to Thanh Ha pottery artisans and local carpenters who will cooperate with him to create more classy contemporary works like Lac Chon

The versatile artist, whose art continues to grow in depth over time, is also cherishing a big dream: establishing a contemporary art space in Hoi An where modern-day artworks and aesthetically pleasing, high-quality decorative items bearing the city’s appealing hallmarks will be put on show.

The space will also serve as a rendezvous for the local and international artistic circles to meet and exchange experience, Khanh added.

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