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Thao Nguyen Phan at Tate

Tate St Ives hosts the major exhbition in UK dedicated to Thao Nguyen Phan internationally renowned for her poetic, multi-layered artworks which explore the historical and ecological issues facing her homeland Vietnam, while speaking to universal ideas surrounding ideas of tradition, ideology, ritual and environmental change.
Through storytelling, mixing official and unofficial histories, her work challenges what she describes as political amnesia. This exhibition brings together a selection of Phan’s videos, paintings and sculptures from the past five years, alongside new work exhibited for the first time. This includes First Rain, Brise Soleil 2021, a major new multi-channel film commission, and an accompanying series of paintings.
Phan’s mesmerising work intertwines mythology and folklore with urgent issues around industrialisation, food security and the environment. The threat posed by the destruction and excessive consumption of Earth’s resources is a recurring theme across her practice. Her recent projects have expanded on ‘the beauty and suffering’ of the Mekong River, which runs through Tibet, China, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia before meeting the sea on the coast of Vietnam. Phan’s latest moving image work First Rain, Brise Soleil 2021 will continue this exploration of the Mekong, proposing a new way of being that draws on indigenous knowledge and respect for the ecosystem.
The exhibition at Tate St Ives, curated by Anne Barlow (director of Tate St Ives) with Giles Jackson (assistant curator), includes Becoming Alluvium, Phan’s 2019 video which tells an unfolding story about destruction, reincarnation and renewal of not only the Mekong, but of the necessity for human life to live in respect and awareness of the tangible and intangible world. Composed of video, animation and found imagery, it explores the environmental and social changes caused by the expansion of farming, overfishing, dam construction and the looted heritage as an aftermath of colonialism. The video will be exhibited with the accompanying work Perpetual Brightness (2019–ongoing), a multi-part screen made using traditional Vietnamese silk and lacquer painting techniques. Made in collaboration with artist Truong Cong Tung, the paintings tell imaginary stories of the Mekong and its human and non-human inhabitants.
Tate St Ives’s exhibition galleries will be transformed into a darkened environment, dividing the film and static works with an installation of hanging jute stalks. During the Second World War, Japanese troops forced Vietnam farmers to grow jute for military supplies instead of rice, contributing to the devastating 1945 famine. This organic, interactive installation, titled No Jute Cloth for the Bones 2019, references the historical and ongoing destruction of Vietnam’s collective consiousness.

Thao Nguyen Phan
Tate St Ives
5 February – 2 May 2022 Open Tuesday to Sunday 10.00–16.20 until 28 February 2021, then open Monday to Sunday 10.00–17.20


Thao Nguyen Phan (b.1987, Vietnam) lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Trained as a painter, she started working in film when she began her MFA in Chicago. Phan exhibits internationally, with solo and group exhibitions including New Museum Triennial, (New York, 2021), Chisenhale Gallery (London, 2020); WIELS (Brussels, 2020); Rockbund Art Museum (Shanghai, 2019); Lyon Biennale (Lyon, 2019); Sharjah Biennial (Sharjah Art Foundation, 2019); Gemäldegalerie (Berlin, 2018); Dhaka Art Summit (2018); Para Site (Hong Kong, 2018); Factory Contemporary Art Centre (Ho Chi Minh City, 2017); Nha San Collective (Hanoi, 2017); and Bétonsalon (Paris, 2016), among others. She was shortlisted for the 2019 Hugo Boss Asia Art Award. In addition to her work as a multimedia artist, she is co-founder of the collective Art Labor, which explores cross-disciplinary practices and develops art projects that benefit the local community. Thao Nguyen Phan is expanding her ‘theatrical fields’, including moving image and what she calls ‘performance gesture’. In 2019, Phan was the recipient of the Han Nefkens Art Foundation – Loop Barcelona video art award, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain. She is also a 2016–17 Rolex Protégée, mentored by internationally acclaimed New York-based performance and video artist, Joan Jonas.

by Alain Chivilò