For Le Thua Tien, lacquer is treated as both a choice of medium and a subject matter. Since his 1999 ‘mirror series’ (later titled ‘Reflections’), Tien’s conceptual investigation of the characteristics of lacquer has moved away from a traditional focus of adding layers of extra material to manipulate the lacquer surface, preferring to solely attend to the elemental color of the lacquer itself – a dense black, experimenting only with its depth and reflective quality.
Resembling the shape of a portal that may lead to another dimension, the polished surface of ‘Reflections’ is crafted using traditional Vietnamese sơn ta; its frames made of the same plaster that builders in Hue, Vietnam’s imperial capital where the artist is from, used for the construction of palaces and tombs during feudal times. With little clear visuality that references the outside world, this installation work – consisting of four large ‘portals’ forming an alomost enclosed circle – invites us to become the lone protagonists amidst Tien’s landscape of infinite darkness. Immersed in an act of self-reflection, as we watch ourselves, an ‘other’ from behind the lacquered surface looks back at us. As Tien contemplates, “It is precisely this ‘meeting moment’ between one and themselves that produces an extraordinary experience of curiosity and awe…; but also provokes a kind of primordial, instinctual fear of the unknown – when human’s finite and impermanent being comes face to face with Mother Nature’s infinite and eternal existence.”