Pham Minh Hieu
Starting from a personal contemplation of the origin myth of the Vietnamese people, my honors thesis explores computational design and nanofabrication techniques to create a series of objects that blur the lines between reality and myth, allowing the past, present and future to vitalize one another.
As this project was about to culminate in a physical exhibition—in the realm of atoms COVID-19 broke out. Thus, instead of exhibiting my work in a physical gallery, I have had to find a way to present my work online—in the realm of bits.
I have decided not to represent my objects in the online exhibition after considering the dematerialization of objects in the realm of bits and the nonlocal nature of (my) objects. To elaborate on this decision:
The dematerialization of the objects in the realm of bits. While there are certain positive effects resulting from the speedy adoption of digital technologies in this time of social distancing and COVID-19, we should not forget that the realm of atoms is the home of our beings. My objects, born in the same realm of atoms, bond with our beings through precisely this shared home. If my objects are dematerialized into mere images in the realm of bits, this shared home, and the bond with our beings, are severed.
The nonlocal nature of objects. By “nonlocal” I mean the way objects simultaneously present in different space-time. The pandemic has made us humans realize that we exist in a deeply tangled network not only amidst our global, human system but also in the company of other species. Just as the pandemic is both local and global, my objects defy boundaries. In the process of making and contemplating them, I am at once here at Stanford, in the US, and also with my family in Hanoi, Vietnam. Again, this effect requires our beings to engage with the objects, as themselves, not as their representations.
Therefore, in the online exhibition, instead of exhibiting the faint representations of my objects, I rely on a series of notes from a meditator, who has closely observed the project since its inception. These notes, taking the form of meditations, are arranged together with their meditator, in a virtual installation. I use the name of one of the notes, A Meditation on Yesterday’s Dream to call this installation. By presenting this virtual installation, I hope the visitors encounter my objects vicariously.
Pham Minh Hieu creates a virtual multimedia installation within the Critique Space to explore representation of the self as connected to larger cultural identities. Minh Hieu started by contemplating the origin myth that the Vietnamese people are descended from the lineage of the Dragon and the Fairy. His research led him to speculate that the dragon and fairy imagery also surfaces in the paired representations of carp and peacock in Vietnamese folk paintings. As a homage to his cultural roots, he then set out to re-invent his own skin in gold and glass using nanofabrication techniques to create radiating light and iridescent colors evoking scales of carp and feathers of peacock. In Hieu’s virtual installation, created in response to not being able to exhibit the works physically, online viewers navigate a series of written meditations—poetic and suggestive short texts which obliquely reference the objects which cannot be physically experienced. The installation also contains a miniature self-portrait, rendered as a 3D “statue,” and as life-size images etched onto virtual glass panels. Like the myths Hieu draws from, this crystalline body is simultaneously present and absent.
Pham Minh Hieu (b. 1996, Hanoi, Vietnam) is currently pursuing a B.A with Honors in Art Practice at Stanford University. He studies with artist Camille Utterback, archaeologist Ian Hodder, and physicist Hideo Mabuchi to explore the ontological depth of things by integrating both theory and practice.
Pham Minh Hieu calls his work “total installation” in homage to Russian-American artist Ilya Kabakov’s definition of artwork in which people find themselves fully immersed in the piece. Hieu’s installations are multiplicities that include both himself and his visitors, where things gather and unfold, and in the process, entangle and transform one another. In 2014 he created his first total installation, a 700 square-foot multi-channel video installation titled Ở đây & Bây giờ (Here & Now) in Vietnam.