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The Devil's Tail

A Review of the contemporary artist, Danh Vo's Chicxulub exhibition now on at White Cube - Bermondsey.

11 September – 2 November 2020

White Cube Bermondsey

Currently occupying the massive White Cube art complex located South of the Thames, is an exhibition entitled Chicxulub by the Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vo.

Throughout the course of his career, Vo has often explored heritage, culture and politics in an effort to illuminate the dichotomy of individual and shared history. His focus can largely be ascribed to his personal history, when as a child, he and his family were forced to flee Vietnam for Denmark. The emotional complexities that arose from such an upheaval and the attempt to assimilate to European culture provided Vo ample inspiration for his artworks. Found objects, like photographs and historic documentation, are an integral aspect of his practice. Such media demonstrates the effect context plays on the understanding and interpretation of art. While he compiles "ready-mades" to express his own agenda, the "objects ... retain the sublimated desire and sadness of individuals and entire cultures" under which they were initially conceived [1].

"to trace the effects a single idea or event can reap"

Danh Vo now lives and works on a farm Germany, where he contrived Chicxulub. The title, which translates from the Yucatec Maya language to mean "the devil's tail," appears to reference the famous Chicxulub impactor, as in the asteroid accredited for the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. This allusion recalls the butterfly effect a single event has on the course of history - from asteroid, to extinction, to the introduction of new life forms (please excuse the wealth of omitted intermediary phases). In effect, this parallels the events of the artist's life (or any life really, but for the sake of argument we'll stick to Vo). The 1975 fall of Saigon to Communism eventually resulted in Vo's relocation to Denmark, which forced him to question the idea of identity, and finally this led to his artistic exploration of history from a personal and communal level. This is all to say that, in my opinion, the title merely indicates the exhibition's intention to trace the effects a single idea or event can reap. Here, that entity would comprise of Christianity.

The stained glass and religious iconography are none too subtle references to Catholicism. Vo has previously explored the contradictory nature of religion, which oft preaches peace and goodness, while simultaneously serving as the basis for many a war throughout history. Presently, however, he compares the export and proliferation of religion to that of "multinational brands,"[2].

He juxtaposes religious iconography alongside crates bearing familiar brand names of soda, liquor, and milk. In the spirt of the Starz television drama American Gods, it reads to me that contemporary Gods, like globally recognized brands, have replaced the old traditional Gods and religious icons, which are here overgrown with flora.

The White Cube's gallery exhibition guide suggests the works hint at "a basic human desire to escape or perhaps retreat," and that the exhibition itself "is the Garden of Eden after the coming of knowledge," [3].

In my own experience, this reading did not come across when viewing Chicxulub. However, I would concur that the space exudes a certain quality of "nostalgia,"[4]. The exhibition itself is quite immersive in terms of the viewer's senses, incorporating both exteroception and smell. Several furnaces are dispersed throughout the space, emanating heat and the familiar and somewhat comforting scent of burning wood.

The exhibition was lengthy and encompassed a wealth of subject matter to be considered. This review if neither comprehensive nor absolute, solely my interpretation of the historical allusions and artwork when presented in unison. Returning to the notion that context drives an audiences' understanding of artwork, this exhibition is sure to elicit a myriad of conclusions unrelated or even in opposition to my own. There are just two weeks left of the exhibition, and for those not in London or wary of public spaces, virtual tours are available through the White Cube website [5].

by Isabelle Barker



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