Ministry of Things (1) 2003-2009

Kim Huynh’s new body of work, “Ministry of Things” is a complex assemblage of ideas, structures, languages, cultural symbols, icons and emblems which have been fused together and located within the confines of numerous graphic configurations acting as boundaries whilst at the same time playing the role of unifying devices. The boundaries in question are, in fact, the logos of national institutions and global corporations. The logos act as enclosures for signs that have been abstracted and removed from their original locations within a community setting. The signs refer to ethnic origin, artistic styles and the historic tradition of a particular group of people. There is a sense that they have been captured and ensconced within an unspecified location.

The title of the exhibition is somewhat ambiguous. Its ambivalent character suggests a definite direction; on the other hand it infers a state of being which oscillates between polarities.

As a prelude to any discussion of Huynh’s work it is useful to acknowledge her process of production as it points to the many issues that she wishes to address. Huynh’s primary focus is on the construction of identity, more specifically community identity. The community in question is those Asian artists who have become immigrants in another country-in this instance Canada. These artists have continued to practice their own artistic traditions within new geographic, political and economic locations -sometimes unaware of each other’s presence or whereabouts. Huynh perceives them as being isolated not only from their own original communities but also from the mainstream activities of Canadian art. In short she is suggesting that the continuance of their own traditional seem of little import or value to their adopted country. She acknowledges, however, that there is a definite place for work that addresses issues of Chinese-Canadian identity of which she is obviously a part.

The initial preparation of the work in question includes the seeking out of artists of Asian descent in the immediate community with the aim of forging a relationship and sharing common interests. Through email and mail exchange with these artists Huynh has been able to assemble a sizeable collection of images of their work, from calligraphy to popular Chinese paintings. Each of the images has been reconfigured into a series of uniform photographic tiles that are later embedded into the architectural space of the logo. Looking like maps the assembled images form communities, even if they are only symbolic ones.

Huynh’s recent project addresses the concerns discussed above in a somewhat curious manner by reverting to a time in the past in which the unity of families and communities were signified by signs, the production of family crests, logos and emblems. Ironically she has chosen Britain as a model of family cohesion without mentioning the example par excellence “The Royal Family. “ In the past the logo or the crest represented a way in which particular identities could be recognized. At first they were employed by Feudal lords and knights later adapted by peasants in imitation of their masters. Coats of arms and Heraldic designs played an important role in determining the lineage and continuity of particular social relationships and power structures.

Huynh’s use of logos is an appealing one. She has employed the strategy of inversion to suggest the repressive political and economic aspects of large corporations. She does this by exploiting a particular corporation’s logo as an architectural framework for the tiled images that represent various indigenous cultures. Huynh views these logos as some kind of hidden architecture that metaphorically captures and isolates individual communities, not in terms of cultural units but economic ones. Company logos thus symbolize the creation of a false unity, one created through capital rather than cultural difference. This is emphasized by the technique that Huynh has used to display these images. The flatness of digital prints contributes to the equalization and neutralization of cultural differences and anomalies. The initial images representing cultural difference are thus reterritorialized within the gallery space. In Huynh’s view logos act as territorializing forces, rendering of the effects of globalization where particular identities are equalized, neutralized and their distinct differences trivialized and made to disappear within the miasma of economy activity What we are witness to is the effects of global capitalism on cultural specificity. Yes, Indeed! – This is all quite speculative.

Paul Woodrow

October 2012

Paul Woodrow has been involved in a variety of inter-disciplinary and multi-media activities since the late 1960s, including performance art, installation, video, painting and improvised music. He has collaborated with many artists including, Iain Baxter (N.E.Thing Co.), Hervé Fischer (The Sociological Art Group Of Paris), Genesis P. Orridge (Coum Transmissions, England), co-founder with Clive Roberstson of W.O.R.K.S. He has exhibited extensively in Japan, France, Italy, Sweden, England, Belgium, Russia, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm and The Tate Gallery, London. He has received numerous awards from Canada Council, SSHRC, Alberta Foundation for the Arts He is the co-founder with Alan Dunning and Morley Hollenberg of Einstein’s Brain Project an organization for a series of works begun in 1996, that explore the notion of the brain as a real and metaphoric interface between bodies and worlds in flux, that examines the idea of the world as a construct sustained through the neurological processes contained within the brain.