Dr Paul Barber inspects the dying Bombax with Dr Thu, local elders and the Buddhist Monk
Sculpture Works “Wood Regeneration”
On the 30th of April, 2016 (the 41st anniversary of the liberation of the South Vietnam, 1974), at the Exhibition Centre for Contemporary Art, there will be a very special exhibition of works by 15 artists from the Fine Art Association of Vietnam.
The sculpture works are mainly made from the wood of two 300+ year old Bombax trees that had been located in front of a pagoda of the Dong Cao village until recently.
Story of the Bombax Trees
In 2012 Dr Paul Barber was invited along with his good friend Dr Thu, to Dong Cao Village, Yen Loc Commune, Y Yen district, Nam Dinh Province about 1.5 hours south of Hanoi, Vietnam, to inspect two dying Bombax (Bombax ceiba) trees over 300 years of age.
The Bombax is commonly known as the silk cotton tree in Vietnam. This tree belongs to the family Malvaceae, the same family that includes the famous Australian boab trees. Bombax ceiba is native to the tropics of Asia and has a very tall and straight habit (commonly referred to as a hero tree), is deciduous, and has a very beautiful bloom of red flowers. This tree is very important as a food source in Thailand, the flowers are used to make a tea in Hong Kong, and the bark is used as a medicine in Vietnam. It typically grows to around 20m tall but trees up to 60m in height have been recorded.
The Bombax tree is widely planted throughout Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Stories date back to the 2nd century BC of this tree being provided as a gift to emperors of China and Vietnam. When travelling throughout Vietnam the distinctive bombax can be seen in villages, often growing within or at the entrance to Buddhist pagodas.
Upon my visit to Dong Cao village it struck me how large and significant these two trees outside of the entrance were. I was met by the village elders and the resident Buddhist monk of the Pagoda. I was viewed with curiosity by school children, many who I suspect had only ever seen a foreigner like myself on TV. What also struck me too was that the people were very happy, friendly, and hopeful that I could save these two magnificent trees.
I was informed of the fact that these trees were regarded as an incredibly important part of this village, and stories were shared about their history. The village people considered chopping down the trees during the period of French occupation to stop the approaching tanks, but decided not to as the trees standing and living were more important. Traces of the war with the French still exist within the wood of these trees. During the American war people climbed these trees to look across the district for the approaching enemy, as the trees were by far the highest vantage point. These trees survived many years of intense bombing by the enemy, with the wood making food and weapons for national defence. These were not just trees, but as the Buddhist monk explained to me through translation, they were like very old people with their own soul. They had been the spiritual symbol of the local people. I felt an incredible amount of pressure to save these trees. Mr Long, a renowned artist who grew up in the village but now lives elsewhere, crafted a traditional porcelain bowl with ink artwork to commemorate this moment of hope.
I was concerned about the severity of their decline in health, with severe damaged sustained to their base and root system through recent changes in levels and construction. These trees had been heavily attacked by the larvae of the cerambycid borer, Batocera rufomaculata. I pulled on my knowledge of what may work, explaining to the villagers that we needed to remove the infill around the base and I attempted systemic treatment of the trees to improve their vigour, along with some foliar feeding and soil treatment. Over the following 12 months the trees, the tree showed some signs of recovery, however, they slipped into a state of further decline and died.
My visit to the village was full of sadness. I was devastated as I’m sure the local people were. I explained that it was now important that the wood be used to remember these historic trees. I donated funds to have the wood kept for later crafting of furniture for the pagoda and small pieces for the local people. I later learnt that it was considered bad luck by the local people to keep anything that belonged to the pagoda. My idea was not so good after all. I had another idea! Could Mr Long gather his artist friends and create some beautiful sculptures from the wood. I was sure that although the wood from the Bombax is considered low quality, the extensive fungal decay and borer galleries throughout this wood could be highlighted as important features of these sculptures, celebrating not only the amazing life of these trees, but also the biology that existed with them and ultimately led to their death. Mr Long and his friends agreed that this was a good idea. We met with the president of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association who gave their full support to this idea.
The trunks were cut into pieces and moved to Hanoi Art University so that 18 artists from the Vietnam Fine Art Association could choose the pieces and develop their ideas. After 3 weeks, the artists created many lively sculptures from the silk cotton trunks. It is very difficult to create sculptures from silk cotton wood because they have such low quality wood
The wonder of talented hands
Thanks to the skillful hands and creative brains, the sculptors took round sections and the decayed wood and fungal mycelium on the trunks to create the works of art. Pham Sinh – a sculptor used the decayed pieces to express his ideas. He explained, ” Since the silk cotton trees held great meaning, I am well aware of my responsibility to create a new spirit and a new life. I used the decayed wood pieces to create the sculptures which are high in shape and have great meaning to overcome the pain. The silk cotton trees are alive again.”
Most sculptures in the exhibition “The regeneration of silk cotton trees” are expressive of their creator’s ideas in accordance with abstractive style. The sculptors completed the works of art over a short period of time. However, there are many quality and delicate works of art. Luu Danh Thanh, the Chairman of Sculptural Art Council – Vietnamese Art Association commented: “The artists created the everlasting works of art from the dead trees. These sculptures contain unique beauty and importantly offer an artistic sense for the viewer. Obviously, the silk cotton trees are not only the pride of Dong Cao inhabitants but also the pride of sculptors currently. From decayed trunks, a valueless wood piece was regenerated to turn into a new life and artistic life.”
The exhibition will commence on 19 April 2016 at the Exhibition Centre for Contemporary Art in Vietnam. Dr Paul Barber will attend the opening, along with Mr Dang Thang Long. The exhibition precedes the anniversary of 41 years of liberation of South Vietnam (30 April 1974).
Tác phẩm điêu khắc “gỗ tái sinh”
Nhân kỷ niệm 41 năm giải phóng miền Nam (30/4/1975 – 30/4/2016), Trung tâm triển lãm mỹ thuật đương đại trưng bày các tác phẩm điêu khắc của 15 nhà điêu khắc của Hội Mỹ thuật Việt Nam. Tác phẩm chủ yếu là gỗ của cây Gạo trồng trước cửa Chùa làng Đống Cao, xã Yên Lộc, Huyện Ý Yên, tỉnh Nam Định, có tuổi thọ hơn 300 năm.
Trải qua bao thăng trầm của lịch sử, những dấu vết của chiến tranh của thời Pháp thuộc vẫn còn hiện hữu trong thân cây, cây vẫn đứng hiên ngang xanh tốt. Những năm chiến tranh phá hoại của Mỹ ở miền Bắc, hai cây gạo này là nơi ngụy trang, che giấu lương thực, đạn dược phục vụ quốc phong. Cây là biểu tượng thiêng liêng của dân làng.
Cây cũng như người, tuổi già, cây bị sâu, bệnh. Dân làng đã mời các chuyên gia trong và ngoài nước đến cứu chữa cho cây, nhưng do quá muộn, cây đã chết!
Với ý tưởng tái sinh của nhà khoa học Ôxtrâylia, Tiến sỹ paul Barber, Các nghệ sỹ của Hội Mỹ thuaath Việt Nam với khối óc và bàn tay điêu luyện đã biến thân hai cây gạo thành các tác phẩm nghệ thuật sống mãi trong long người dân.
Nghệ sỹ: Đặng Thành Long