Rolex protégé Thao-Nguyen Phan on exploring new mediums and her Pittsburgh project

Thao-Nguyen Phan at her Ho Chi Minh City studio with some of her sketches and objects that inspire her
Thao-Nguyen Phan at her Ho Chi Minh City studio with some of her sketches and objects that inspire her. Photography: Yann Rabanier
(Image credit: Yann Rabanier)

Every other year since 2002, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative has brought together leading artists, writers, architects, musicians, film-makers, theatre directors and other creative titans with early-career contenders. Past mentors include Magaret Atwood, David Hockney and Anish Kapoor. In November 2016 we profiled the latest seven lucky protégés, paired with guiding lights such as Philip Glass, David Chipperfield and Robert Lepage. The protégés reveal what mentoring has meant to them and how their lives have changed as a result.

Born and brought up in Ho Chi Minh City, Thao-Nguyen Phan studied at the city’s University of Fine Arts, before doing an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Returning to Vietnam, in 2012 she set up Art Labor, a cross-disciplinary collective with artist Truong Cong Tung and curator Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran, which develops art projects that involve the local community. Her mentor is Joan Jonas, the New York-based pioneer of video and performance art.

W*: Has your year with Joan Jonas had an impact on your creative work?
Thao-Nguyen Phan: What is special about the programme is that I do not have to have a physical project that is considered ‘the result’ of the mentorship. Instead, that lies in the profound experience that I have had with my mentor, a great life lesson that can be used for years to come. Having said that, my most recent work, Poetic Amnesia, is inspired by Joan’s unique approach to image-making, and is an experiment in creating a half-real, half-fictitious visual experience, using painting, drawing, video and sculpture – it’s my venture into the history of Vietnam’s romanised script.

W*: What is your next project likely to be?
TNP: Joan and my art collective, Art Labor, have been invited to participate in the 2018 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, one of the most important contemporary art surveys in America. I will come to Pittsburgh with Joan this November and begin our collaboration, which will be based around the topics of botany and economy.

W*: How has this last year changed you?
TNP: It wasn’t until I met Joan that I realised the freedom I have in being a visual artist, that I can explore different mediums, each with its own endless possibilities. This has had a crucial impact on how I make work now.

As originally featured in the November 2017 issue of Wallpaper* (W*224)


For more information, visit Thao-Nguyen Phan's website and the Rolex Mentors & Protégés Initiative‎ website