Giai Trai, 2016

Mixed used fabrics, thread

64cm x 57cm x 23cm

According to Chinese mythology, giải trãi (qilin) is a mythical animal able to differentiate between right and wrong, and although aggressive, would only attack wrongdoers and never an innocent person. Thus, their images often adorned the official outfits of court mandarins who oversee law and order. The second emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, emperor Minh Mang (1791-1841), had this mythical creature casted, but modified it from an animal that was half lion, half dragon into an animal resembling an antelope.[1] According to Tran Chau, this action signifies “an intent to depart from Chinese influences”, a process that has never been simple.[2] Tran Chau’s “Giải Trãi”, compared to the original sculpture is bigger, lighter, and looks more like a sitting dog. This second modification signals a subtle agreement with the Emperor’s decision, as well as hammers the first nail into the potent boundary between symbolism and reality,[3] a thread the artist continues to pursue throughout the exhibition.

[1] there are people who mentioned it looks like a Saola, an Asian bicorn discovered in Vietnam in 1992, but because this is too far from the times of Minh Mang, the author does not wish to engage in this comparison.

[2] there were many big demonstrations against China in the last couple of years. The most prominent ones occurred after the environmental disaster in Ha Tinh caused by the metal factory Formosa, devastating the 4 central regions.

[3] please check out Boi Tran Huynh Beattie’s elegant essay “Vietnamese aesthetics from 1925 onwards” The first chapter in the piece discusses symbolism in Vietnamese aesthetics from the 18th century to the end of 1884 with many references to the Nguyen’s heritage.

Text by Tra Nguyen.