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The medium of glass is ancient and elemental: evocative of earth, fire and breath. Glass is one of the oldest manufactured materials, first found moulded into beads in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and later used for delicate vessels in Rome. Vietnamese artist Tiffany Chung’s recent works draw on the distant past and mythological narratives, using thousands of glass figurines, to evoke a future vision. Seen in this context, Chung’s roaming with the dawn – snow drifts, rain falls, desert wind blows 2012, embodying perceptions of migration, evolution and progress, raises questions about our relationship to an environment amid rapid change.
The collection of a myriad of animal figures suggests an event biblical in scale. The whimsy and beauty of these dainty glass animals belie their allegorical potential, where the world has reached a point of no return, where differences are subsumed in favour of a common task or objective. The tide of animals, including hippopotamuses, tigers, rhinoceroses, cows, donkeys, sheep and pigs, moves together as a great migratory pattern. But, are they fleeing or following a call to a promised land? Are they stampeding or roaming? In their multiple specificities, the jumble of creatures suggests equivalence brought on by circumstance.
1. Viet Le, ‘All work, all play: Of workers and cosplayers, or POPaganda: The art of Tiffany Chung’, Tiffany Chung: Play [exhibition catalogue], Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York, 2008, p.3.
Tiffany Chung herself is part of the enormous Vietnamese diaspora formed over the last 40 years. Born in 1969 during the Vietnam–American War, she was two years old when her father, a helicopter pilot in the South Vietnamese air force, was shot down, captured and interned. When the war ended, the family immigrated to the United States, where Chung studied art in California, returning to Vietnam in 2000 to become a prominent artist in the vibrant and expanding Vietnamese contemporary art scene.
Chung has long been fascinated with maps, not only for their graphic possibilities, but also for what they say about our connections with the past and our visions of the future. Over the past few years, she has produced a series of embellished maps that evoke both the utopian visions and harsh dislocations of our rapidly developing world, charting the movement of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Tibetan refugees and asylum seekers, Japanese victims of the atomic bombings of World War Two and communities displaced by the Cold War and the Berlin Wall.