‘Voracious Embrace: The Human/Animal Interface’ explores the hidden, perhaps overlooked encounters, between the human and animal world. Over the last nine months, Lena Bui has been working with the scientists of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City, as an ‘artist-in-residence’, to learn more of their research and methods of working, including the dilemmas they face in the world of crisis ‘control and prevention’.
Particularly fascinated by zoonoses – diseases such as influenza which pass to humans from animals – and the relationship between the consumption of animal parts and the conditions they are bred, butchered and packaged in, Bui traveled to rural farming areas in Dong Thap and Dak O with scientists, then made independent visits to Trieu Khuc and Can Gio. After these research trips, she returned to the studio compelled by what she witnessed. Large abstract drawings resembling bodily forms, flesh and skin – a representation of elements found in wet markets across Viet Nam – became a recurring motif on the studio wall.
These works, coupled with another series of drawings depicting the chaotic yet fluid and strangely beautiful swarms of movement found in the invisible microscopic world of bacteria, help to provide both a micro and macro view of how complicated and seemingly automatic our interactions are. What was particularly intriguing for Bui was the farmer’s intimacy with their animals and the lack of fear towards interacting with blood, raw flesh, feathers, skin and bones, under conditions most urban dwellers would consider unhygienic. Bui found the presence of highly effective traditional farming practices that quietly continue – evidence of a natural relation between the growths of the crop, the herding of animals and their consumption.
Documenting her fieldwork through video, photography, sound and sketch, Bui was determined to experiment with differing media, desiring a weight and viscerality that reflected the reality of what she had witnessed. Here was a world seemingly unaffected by the scientific knowledge of the microscopic potential dangers inherent to living in close proximity with animals – an existence that nonetheless forms the backbone of a crucial part of the human food chain in Viet Nam today.
Lena Bui’s ‘artist-in-residence’ is co-organized in Ho Chi Minh City by the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, a Wellcome Trust supported research centre and Sàn Art, Viet Nam’s most active independent, non-profit contemporary art space and reading room; with exhibition hosted by the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum, showcasing new works realized as a result of this unique collaboration.
Please visit wellcomecollection.org/global for more information about the project.
For more information on Lena Bui and her reflections as an‘artist-in-residence’, please visit here