PHUNG HUYNH

Artist Statement – Disorientation

 

The current series of paintings is largely inspired by Chinese auspicious imagery and reflects my long held interest in the seminal work of Edward Said on the subject of Orientalism.  Chinese auspicious images are typically pictures marked by lucky signs or good omens, and by placing them on walls, they bring promise of success and good fortune.  Examples of typical auspicious imagery include luscious representations of plump children and pomegranate, which signify fertility, or depictions of carp and lotus flowers that symbolize prosperity.  Particular combinations of objects, figures and landscapes procure a specific omen or good fortune.  Such visual pairings and the luck that they bring are predicated upon the inherent nature of the objects themselves (a pomegranate abundant with juicy seeds is an appropriate representation of fertility); or, such pictorial combinations can also function as homophones that produce alternate meanings (when the words “lotus” and “fish” are pronounced together, the words themselves sound like “living a good life for a long time”).  Most of these images are sweet pictures that are mass-produced and can be found in Chinatown tourist shops.  People who believe in traditional good omens as well as passersby who delight in sugary kitsch pictures, both purchase Chinese auspicious imagery.

 

The current body of work is a deliberate exploration of Chinese auspicious imagery, its lexicon, and the ways in which it is consumed.  As these paintings are mounted on walls, they imitate the manner in which auspicious images are also displayed [on walls].  Yet, the traditional pairings and combinations of objects and figures are deconstructed, leaving a sense of disorientation that has shaped my own cultural identity and “orientation,” a continual slippage between western assimilation and eastern heritage. These personal cultural shifts of when I am a western voyeur, or when I am a subject of the western gaze, informs how I interpret images and symbols, and how I alternate their meanings.  My paintings fluctuate between the sweet and the grotesque, as I take auspicious imagery out of traditional context into perverse landscapes where naughty children assume adult behavior, and where objects have a life of their own.  There is a tension being played out of when visual metaphors and symbols perform an allegory that can become meaningful omens, or can become cute commodified objects purchased in Chinatown. The development of my art and this paradoxical investigation on things “oriental” are greatly influenced by the work of Edward Said.  His seminal text, Orientalism, helped direct the trajectory of my thoughts and impulses, in that the “orient at large… vacillates between the West’s contempt for what is familiar and it shivers of delight in- or fear of- novelty” (Orientalism, 59).  Describing these paintings as a type of disorientation alludes to Said’s definition of the orient, of a particular exoticizing of objects and figures that are eastern in ways that are both delightful and horrifying.  Disorientation also questions how we culturally align ourselves, and how we choose to orient our [mis]interpretations of visual culture.