Alphabet (L) is a vision of shimmering gold leaf with the letter ‘L’ stamped out of the middle, to reveal an unfolded cardboard box beneath. The present work creates a dialogue between fine art and everyday throwaway material. To create these works, Vō collects used consumer packaging from Vietnam and applies gold leaf to the surface, a luxurious material that bespeaks both the capital prosperity of the West and the ritual spirit of Vō’s Vietnamese upbringing. The mixture between the gold leaf and the consumer goods packaging also serves to heighten the idealization of the commercial and commoditized life in the West. The cardboard packaging and its association to commerce and the commodity have proven a valuable material for many of art history’s most innovative artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. Vō takes up this legacy and transforms the medium of cardboard packaging in his own inimitable manner. Collaging letters from the worldwide naval code system—the Bowditch Alphabet—the artist adopts an alphabet used as a shipping industry standard to advance global trade and nurture colonization. Vō appropriates traditional gilding techniques associated with glimmering Southeast Asian temples upon unfolded carton boxes like those of condensed milk, a foreign product of trade introduced to Thai and Vietnamese consumer cultures through the war. Juxtaposing the historical and the personal, Vō’s work is a rivetingly complex meditation on beauty and migration.
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