Savanhdary Vongpoothorn

Savanhdary Vongpoothorn's forthcoming show at Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney, is titled Space Element, opening 29 February 2024. This show follows the critically successful solo exhibition curated by Emily Rolfe and Isabelle Morgan at Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW, in late 2023. This preview of Aflame was written by Nikita Holcombe, commissioned by Artist Profile for issue 64.

Savanhdary Vongpoothorn’s iterative artistic practice is steeped in rich materiality and symbolism. Her detailed intricate works traverse landscape and spirituality, as well as her experiences as a Lao-Australian. For Vongpoothorn, who grew up in Campbelltown, her solo exhibition Aflame at Campbelltown Arts Centre, “feels like going full circle.”

The ambitious scale of Aflame deepens Savanhdary Vongpoothorn’s interrogation of the Ādittapariyāya Sutta (Pali, “Fire Sermon Discourse”) in Theravada Buddhism and ventures into new technologies.

In the Fire Sermon, Buddha preaches about achieving liberation from suffering through detachment from the five senses and the mind. Buddha states that the Five Senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste) and the mind are in a state of burning – burning with desire, attachment, and clinging.

In Aflame, Vongpoothorn materially explores “why is it all burning up?” “As humans, our actions have a direct correlation to the burning of the world around us.” She notes the burning of the internal senses, such as desire and attachment are “a metaphor for everything that is going on [such as] the toxicity in the environment and political upheaval.”

Buddha’s preaching is “simple, yet true, and one that is difficult to get away from.” While a deepening in understanding of the Fire Sutra propels a person on a path to “liberation, to non-clinging, attachments, and meaning,” for Vongpoothorn, “the closer [she] feels to understanding them, the further away their realisation feels.” Consequently, reassembling the meaning of the Fire Sutra as art is “a fraught task.”

In the exhibition, Vongpoothorn does not attempt to avoid this difficult task, but rather explores its complexities beautifully. Ideas are formed and fused together, developed over years of repeated use of the Fire Sutra motif. This practice of rolling ideas continues and spans through the gallery spaces. While each room holds individual artworks, the motifs, and references they depict, bleed from one room to the next, forming a continuous link. This rich connectivity is a “liberating process” for Vongpoothorn and provides the opportunity for her to exercise non-attachment and clinging, to let go of an idea and move onto the next.

Having established herself strongly in the realm of painting, in Aflame, Vongpoothorn ambitiously ventures into new mediums. Spinning the Fire Sutra II, 2023, is a further exploration of her kinetic sculpture, first developed in public art commission by Campbelltown City Council for Spinning the Fire Sutra I, 2022, located in Anzac Lane. In this new site-specific mural, which spans two gallery walls in Campbelltown Arts Centre, individual disks composed of anodised aluminium – representative of the Five Senses –are fixed to the wall painted with multiple concentric circles. The disks are emblazoned with hues of red, orange, gold, and silver, and spin continuously in the same direction from slow to fast, following a hypnotic, melodic rhythm.

Vongpoothorn’s artworks are both ambiguous and symbolic, they reject prescriptive meaning and instead favour an experiential encounter through close physical proximity. This is akin to the process of their construction, favouring artistic depictions rather than didactic texts.

For this 2023 exhibition, Vongpoothorn has adopted new collaborative processes, including one with her daughter Latsamy, who drew a series of hovering clouds for Latsamy’s Clouds, and with the Master Printer John Loane at Viridian Press, with whom she made the large-scale photogravure Aflame.

In Aflame, made in 2023, concentric circles in varying sizes intersect and overlap in warm hues of blue, yellow, and red. The circles are not always fully formed, their circumference often terminating at a section’s edge, having been divided and then woven together to form a grid. Aflame was created through a process of analogue painting to digital photography and then returning to analogue for reassembling. This process of translation from one technology to another resulted in pixelated images intersecting in a web-like pattern. No longer crisp, the lines instead have soft pulsating edges, that give the work a textile-like quality.

In another work, Tracks, 2023, Vongpoothorn employs text, shapes, and pattern to depict the broken Fire Sutra. The canvas of Tracks – like many of her works – has been pierced by thousands of tiny perforations which create a grid formation. In Tracks, she has employed a laser cutter, rather than a soldering iron, for this purpose. Plastered onto the canvas are rectangular sheets of dried acrylic paint. Vongpoothorn usually cleans her worktable by painting it over in white. However, this time as a means to preserve the incidental markings, she scraped off its colourful surface adorned with hints of reds, oranges, yellows, blues, and greens. She found that the scrapings came off the table’s surface like sheets of paper, which she then put aside in 2005, waiting for a way to reuse them. Vongpoorthorn often holds onto materials for years until an opportunity appears to rekindle their use and life.

There is a strong sense of rhythm through movement implied both in the construction of the exhibition and the visible rotation in some of the work. In Aflame, tendrils of the broken Fire Sutra unfurl from one work to the next, propelling the viewer on a path to question: “Why is it all burning?”

This preview was originally published in Artist Profile, issue 64

Space Element 
29 February – 23 March 2024 
Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney 

Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related