“…How much rice will be eaten in order to make
a piece of coal?
White and black
Soft, sticky and hard rough Sow a coal seed, it will take a thousand of years!”
Steam Rice Man was performed as part of the Mao Khe coal mine project in which Tran Luong and 11 other artists from Hanoi spent two weeks at the disaster-prone Mao Khe coal mine in Quang Ninh province. The experience of working in the deep, dark and dusty tunnels left a profound impact on the artists: it took roughly 40 minutes of showering to rid the body of the thick black dust, dust which can never be fully expelled from the lungs.
In Vietnam, the life of hardship was often associated with the farmer, especially since farmers were the most exposed to wartime bombings, but this project led the artist to realise that coal miners’ lives were equally gruelling, if not more so. Whether deep in tunnels or under scorching sun, the miners and farmers bore the onerous task of producing fuel for Vietnam. This prompted the poignant juxtaposition of rice and coal powder: soft and hard, sticky and dusty, white and black. The use of rice and coal on the artist’s performing body produces a highly visceral and sensual encounter, for the materials are at once alluring and haunting. Here, these two disparate substances – dependent on yet indispensable to labor alike – underline the often-overlooked human expense vested into making the material.
(Text excerpt taken from the Medium at Large exhibition catalogue, held at Singapore Art Museum (SAM) in 2014)