Evelina Hägglund & Minh Lan Tran03.02.22 - 19.03.22
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
E. E. Cummings, 1931
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond is a duo exhibition by Swedish artist Evelina Hägglund and French Vietnamese painter Minh Lan Tran. Titled after a poem by E. E. Cummings, in which the American poet evokes a journey towards the silent eyes of a lover – a territory beyond experience, where words are no longer sufficient to convey the intensity of his feelings –, the conversation between the two artists explores the language of materiality and physicality, unfolding within a space where emotions and sensations are treated as primary means of communication.
Throughout the exhibition, Hägglund and Tran revel in the idiosyncrasies of the materials they employ to draw our attention to the affective properties of bodies and the vitality of inanimate matter. In Hägglund’s work, these ideas translate into series of large-scale drawings covered with a profusion of flowing lines and abrupt strokes in graphite. The marks and shapes appearing on the raw canvas correspond to the outlines of sculptures made of metal rods and wires, some of which are assembled in ways that suggest the form of scorched trees, while some others seem to conjure up the silhouette of ominous figures.
Any of these associations, however, reveals more the tendency of the human mind to impose meanings on things than the artist’s intention, who rather sees these works as the result of an intuitive confrontation between her body and the materials she manipulates. ‘Ideas are not separate from the body’, Hägglund argues, ’and I believe that by including my very hands, by incorporating me as a maker in the work, I am in a much more honest position to express an idea’. ’Ceasing trying to get signification “right” sets me free’, she continues, ‘I can bend and twist, invert, fill, learn and unlearn the world as I imagine it.Embodiment and corporeality are also central to Tran’s practice, who describes her working process as a choreography ‘where movement alternatively sculpts, scatters and distributes intensities across the canvas’.
Tran usually begins work by writing on the raw surface of the canvas, synchronizing her movement with the rhythms of poems. The artist then covers these inscriptions with a mixture of pigments and organic materials such as eggs, glue, salt, dust and metal powders, building up her compositions through thin layers of paint that are subsequently rubbed off, scratched and incised. The fluid play of textures and tactile reliefs emerging from this process operate as indexes of Tran’s bodily gestures, which are enhanced by the running strokes and cursive lines spreading across the canvas. ‘I evolve in the space of the canvas with a similar tension than the one happening on stage or in a fighting ring’, the artist explains, ‘I see the act of painting as a catalyst of violence and the canvas as its receptacle.
Sometimes giving the impression of looking at eroded soils or stitched wounds, Tran’s paintings reconnect with artistic traditions which, from Soutine to Fautrier and Dubuffet, eschewed narration and focused their attention on the base materiality of paint to capture primal forms of sensations. Likewise, Tran treats her materials as autonomous, living things, provoking alchemical reactions between the elements of her compositions to emulate the metamorphic processes occurring in nature.
Hägglund is similarly concerned with material processes and reactions, producing works that often look more organically shaped than aesthetically formed. If the slender allure and sheer precariousness of her sculptures may contrast with Tran’s lavishly textured surfaces, both artists share a common interest in the sensuous and emotional properties of raw matter, through which they explore the potential of art to express dimensions of existence for which we have no words. As such, the dialogue between their work invites us to contemplate the language of physicality and the vibrancy of inert matter – a territory where our inherent desire for comprehension usually prevents us to see these things which, paraphrasing Cummings, are too near to be touched, but where reside an infinite reservoir of meanings that are yet to be deciphered.
Rhiannon Harper, 'somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond – a conversation with Evelina Hägglund and Minh Lan Tran', Spring Journal, 28 February 2022
Review by Sean Worrall, Organ Thing, 17 March 2022
'Evelina Hägglund & Minh Lan Tran: Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond' in 'Must-see exhibitions in
New York, London, Murnau am Staffelsee, Trento, Paris, Berlin, Seoul, Hong Kong', Galleries Now, 25 March 2022