TrAIN Open Lecture: Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier

Open Lecture


Vong Phaophanit & Claire Oboussier

This event will be chaired by TrAIN Member and UAL Chair of Black Art and Design, Professor Sonia Boyce.

Vong Phaophanit (b.1961 Laos) and Claire Oboussier (b.1963 London) have worked collaboratively for over 25 years alongside their respective studio practices. Their collective work, encompassing large-scale installations and sculptural works, films, books, and socially engaged public commissions, explores issues of language, memory, deterritorialisation and forms of meaning making that exceed national, cultural and social borders. In 1993 Phaophanit was nominated for the Turner Prize and in 1994 was awarded the DAAD fellowship in Berlin where the duo subsequently relocated. During their time in Berlin, Phaophanit and Oboussier produced ‘Atopia’ (Berliner Künstlerprogramm DAAD, 2003) in response to the transitioning cultural, political and physical landscape of the city. In 2004 they created the video work ‘All that’s solid melts into air (Karl Marx)’ (collection of the TATE), part of ‘The Quiet in the Land’, a pioneering transnational arts project in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR. The work explores the precariousness of language and memory and the role they have in constructing both national and personal identities and engages with the “instability and ephemerality of meaning, it’s fluctuation across time and languages” *

Phaophanit and Oboussier have produced a number of groundbreaking public commissions including ‘Outhouse’ (2004) for Liverpool Housing Action Trust, a sculptural glass ‘abode’ sited within a public park for the collective use of local residents. In 2008 they were selected for the Channel 4 Big Art Project for which they proposed ‘Northern Light’ – a suspended architectural work for North Belfast, ‘a ‘third space’ beyond polarised territories’, again conceived for the collective use of local communities. Other key works in public space include neon installations such as ‘Topography of Dreams’ (2007), Curzon Street Station, Birmingham, ‘Light Curtain’ for Hull Truck Theatre (2009), ‘Light of Day’ (2010) for the Neo-Natal Baby Unit at St Georges Hospital in London and ‘Coronium’ (2011) for Kilden, the New Performing Arts Centre in Kristiansand, Norway. In 2012, as part of the cultural Olympiad, they were commissioned to make ‘Light Veils’, a permanent laser installation for Weymouth Seafront and a legacy work for the town.

Phaophanit and Oboussier completed ‘Mute Meadow’ in 2011 on the banks of the River Foyle in Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland – a major socially engaged public work commissioned as part of the ‘post-conflict’ re-imagining of the city. In 2015 they installed ‘Dream House’, a public sculpture commission for downtown Toronto that explores diasporic notions of home and belonging. Their most recent project ‘IT IS AS IF’ (2015), is an immersive video installation produced at Block 336 in Brixton. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, this work is an experimental collaboration between the artists and surgeon Professor Roger Kneebone (Imperial College, London), investigating the unspoken languages of medical surgery and extending their commitment to engaged practice, inter-diciplinary dialogue and their interest in non-narrative, trans-cultural forms of meaning.

In addition to their work within the public realm Phaophanit and Oboussier have exhibited at venues such as Tate Britain, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa, IMMA, Dublin, Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, Iziko National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa, the Shanghai Biennale, International Short Film Festival Oberhausen and Void Gallery, Derry~Londonderry.

In this lecture, Phaophanit and Oboussier will be discussing their recent exibition, IT IS AS IF, at Block 336 (May-June 2015), supported by The Wellcome Trust. Together, with Professor of Sugery at Imperial College, Roger Kneebone, they have been investigating the connections between art practice and the techniques and discourses of medical surgery.

Together they have been investigating the connections between art practice and the techniques and discourses of medical surgery. Kneebone’s interest is in how new robotic technologies are replacing the embodied knowledge of surgeons and surgical craft and part of his work involves the archiving of these dying skills before they are lost forever. His research also explores the unspoken languages of surgery as they are constructed and performed amongst the wider surgical team and how the importance of the surgical team has often been neglected in favour of a myth of the lone heroic surgeon.

Through IT IS AS IF Phaophanit and Oboussier enter the landscape of memory in search of unmapped territories. Held within the skeleton of a sinewy timber labyrinth, two films draw upon the artists’ own memoryscapes and guide us through the uncharted post-conflict zones of Laos, the eddies and flows of the Mekong, the Thames and the system of arteries that make up Europe’s ‘great’ rivers. As we navigate the installation, within a clearing we are met with an uncanny sequence of precise and tender gestures: the surgeon’s hands de territorialised, the absent body. Cut flesh, opened, held, sutured – the operated and traumatised body reveals the strangeness of our innermost selves and the uncertainty of our futures.

IT IS AS IF explores embodied memory within a conceptual and phenomenological framework that invites the viewer to become lost within its network of passages and discover a new sense of place, time and meaning.

Phaophanit and Oboussier have exhibited previously at venues such as Tate Britain, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa, IMMA, Dublin, Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, the Shanghai Biennale, and the Void Gallery, Derry~Londonderry.

See the video here:

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    TrAIN Open Series

    The TrAIN Open series is a forum for invited speakers to present exhibition, publication, and research projects in the form of lectures, discussions and screenings.

    Taking place at fortnightly intervals on Wednesday evenings during the academic term, the series is open to the public, as well as staff and students across the University of the Arts London.
    Find out more about TrAIN Open Series

Related People

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    Professor Sonia Boyce

    TrAIN Member

    In the broadest sense, my research interests lie in art as a social practice and the critical and contextual debates that arise from this burgeoning field. Since the 1990s my own art practice has relied on working with other people in collaborative and participatory situations, often demanding of those collaborators spontaneity and unrehearsed performative actions.
    Find out more about Professor Sonia Boyce