<b>Winning one of Asia’s major art prizes is no small feat for multimedia artist Thao-Nguyen Phan from Vietnam who credits her Rolex mentor Joan Jonas with helping her discover the emotion and knowledge that make her who she is.</b>
With her highly successful mentoring year with one of America’s greatest living artists only months behind her, young Vietnamese multimedia artist Thao-Nguyen Phan has been awarded one of the Asia-Pacific region’s most prestigious prizes
in the arts, the Singapore-based APB Foundation Signature Art Prize.
In 2016−2017, Phan was protégée in the Rolex Arts Initiative to the famous Joan Jonas, New York-based pioneer of video and performance art. The mentorship gave Jonas the opportunity to examine close up the work of the younger generation
of Vietnamese artists, particularly, of course, that of Phan, whose lyricism and inspiration drawn from story-telling won special praise from the mentor.
Those qualities are at the heart of <em>Tropical Siesta</em>, a two-channel video work with six oil paintings on X-ray film backing that has won Thao-Nguyen Phan the Grand Prize of 60,000 Singapore dollars (about
US$ 44,000). According to Phan, there would be no <em>Tropical Siesta</em> without the input of her Rolex mentor. The prize is sponsored by the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation and the Singapore Art Museum.
<em>Tropical Siesta</em> depicts an imaginary agricultural community − made up entirely of children − in rural Vietnam. The work re-enacts the observations recorded by 17th-century French Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes,
considered the father of Vietnam’s romanized script, as he travelled across the country. <em>Tropical Siesta</em> is part of a larger work by Thao-Nguyen Phan, called <em> Poetic Amnesia</em>, which was exhibited
at the Rolex Arts Weekend in Berlin in February 2018.
Thao-Nguyen Phan said of the prize: “The Signature art prize is meaningful personally and professionally. Singapore was the first country where I lived outside of Vietnam. I studied there for a year and had one extra year working as an
assistant in an art conservation lab. Singapore has immense economic wealth and a rich cultural diversity that established itself as an important culture hub with major museums focusing on Southeast Asia and beyond.
“The art prize also gains me an international recognition that is a quiet resistance to the reluctance of the official art system in Vietnam in accepting contemporary art. This also gives me enormous support to carry on unrealized projects.
I remind myself to handle the prize responsibly to create a positive impact on my career and the creative field in Vietnam and beyond.”
A total of 113 artworks from 46 countries and territories were nominated for the Singapore prize, which is presented every three years and focuses on the best contemporary art in the wider region. This year’s awards ceremony was held on
29 June 2018 at the National Museum of Singapore.
Phan said recently: “From Joan I learned so much about the complexity of layering and the art of story-telling, which is actually a major concern and influence in my work. I appreciate every moment with her. That great [mentoring] year
has gained me profound emotion and knowledge that really define who I am as an artist. I also believe this will be a long-lasting friendship. In my studio in Saigon I often think about Joan at her loft in Soho [New York] or Joan taking
[her poodle] Ozu out for a walk at her summer house in Cape Breton [Canada]. Just that gives me such positive energy.”
Both Jonas and Phan have extolled the benefits gained from mentoring; and their creative friendship is indeed set to continue long beyond their official Rolex year together – Phan’s art collective, Art Labor, and Joan Jonas have already
been invited to take part together in the 2018 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, a major event in America’s visual arts calendar.
According to advance publicity for the October opening of the Carnegie International, “the Ho Chi Minh City−based collective Art Labor will make a hammock café complete with coffee service. This extension of Art Labor’s ongoing project, <em>Jarai
Dew</em>, will bring together research into Vietnam’s coffee industry, painting, sculpture and sound to create a vibrant and relaxing social experience. The installation will be crowned by kites painted by Joan Jonas…”