In a series of works Thu-Van Tran reproduces fragments of a rubber plantation in the Arsenale at the Venice Biennale di Arte.
Casts of hevea tree trunks are laid out in front of photograms of tropical foliage and a video of people carving the bark of the hevea tree to extract rubber. The photograms make the ephemeral moment of light hitting leaves durable, and the mark of the worker’s hand is evident in the casts of the trees. Looking like bones, the trees are displayed on crates reminding me of something being packed and stored like an artifact, no longer a part of its true ecosystem. Together the pieces broadcast an experience of work, colonial domination, and nature.
I’ve been reading some of Walter Benjamin’s writings on mechanical reproduction and the “aura of the original.” He creates an argument that contradicts itself almost immediately, or at least pales over the intervening years. He places the reproduction in the realm of the “other” or alien; something that is not quite right as a way of devaluing it in comparison to “the real”. I assert that the otherness or the mediated state of reproduction in and of itself creates an experience all its own – a new realness.
In this case we are presented, through mechanical reproduction, with the weight of the nature and action of the plantation. Pain and beauty are both present in the collection of these seemingly prosaic objects and views, until the video decodes the signs for the viewer.
Benjamin and I are going to be healthy sparing partners.
Again, again, over and over, that’s when it starts to get interesting.