October 12, 2013

Vietnamese sculptors open outdoor Maine exhibition

The MECA project in downtown Portland hopes to help visitors reconnect with nature and ponder their place within the natural world.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

By using tree branches as their medium and erecting their sculpture atop an open grass field, the Vietnamese artists Dao Chau Hai and Nguyen Ngoc Lam hope to call attention to man’s delicate balancing act with nature.

click image to enlarge

Nguyen Ngoc Lam and Dao Chau Hai, visiting sculptors from Hanoi, Vietnam, call their piece at the corner of Casco and Shepley streets in Portland “The Tree Man.”

John Patriquin/StaffPhotographer

click image to enlarge

Nguyen Ngoc Lam and Dao Chau Hai, visiting sculptors from Hanoi, Vietnam, call their piece at the corner of Casco and Shepley streets in Portland “The Tree Man.”

John Patriquin/StaffPhotographer

The two artists unveiled their site-specific installation on Friday, inviting people to walk down the long narrow tunnel – made from beech, maple and oak saplings – and consider the human form who hides inside. It is held together with nails.

They call their piece “The Tree Man.”

The twisting sculpture, which measures about 40 feet long, stands in the green space at the corner of Casco and Shepley streets, one block off Congress Street. The small open field is adjacent to an apartment building owned by the Maine College of Art, which helped arrange the installation with Indochina Arts Partnership of Wellesley, Mass.

“We hope this helps people find clear thoughts, so we can become one with nature again,” Hai said through his translator, Long Nguyen.

They unveiled their sculpture with a community celebration Friday afternoon.

C. David Thomas, who grew up in Westbrook and graduated from the Portland School of Art in 1968, directs the partnership. He had planned for Hai and Lam to construct their piece in the Boston area, but those plans fell through. Given his personal connection to MECA and the Portland’s sister-school status with the University of Fine Arts in Hanoi, Vietnam, Portland emerged as a suitable site.

The artists have been working on their installation for three weeks, and it will remain on view for a few months, said Jill Dalton, MECA’s alumni relations director. Lam said he was looking forward to seeing it in the snow.

Limington artist Asherah Cinnamon helped her Vietnamese colleagues gather the materials for the project while they stayed with host family Joan and Dan Amory in Portland’s West End.

At its highest, “The Tree Man” stands about 11 feet tall.

The artists said they based their concept on their feelings about the impact of societal pressure on mankind globally.

Thomas began the Indochina Arts Partnership in 1988. He served as draftsman for the U.S. Army in the late 1960s, drawing blueprints of roads.

He went back to Vietnam in the 1980s, and fell in love with the country. The Indochina Arts Partnerships aims to promote cultural understanding through the arts and art exchanges.

“My goal is to change the image we have of Vietnam,” said Thomas. “America knows that 10-year period, from 1965 to ’75, but there’s a 2,000-year history before that and a 40-year history since then. The Vietnamese make art, and they make beautiful art. I want to share it.”

Thomas travels to Vietnam twice a year on average. In March, he will meet MECA President Don Tuski in Hanoi as Tuski works to strengthen its sister-school relationship with the University of Fine Arts there.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be reached at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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