Richard Streitmatter-Tran (born in 1972, Bien Hoa, Vietnam) is an artist living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam since Sept. 2003. He received his degree in the Studio for Interrelated Media (SIM) at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.
His work has been exhibited in solo or in group shows in several cities in the United States and in Vietnam, as well as in Europe and in Asia, recently at the 2005 Pocheon Asian Art Festival and the 2004 Gwangju Biennale in Korea, the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, the Blue Space Gallery in Ho Chi Minh City, at L’Espace in Hanoi, and the Asiatopia Performance Art Festival in Bangkok, Thailand. He is an Asia Pacific correspondent for the Madrid-based bilingual arts magazine Art.Es and was awarded the 2005 Martell Contemporary Asian Art Research Grant from the Asian Art Archive in Hong Kong for his project, Mediating the Mekong. He has been a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University (2000-2004), conducted media arts research at the MIT Media Lab (2000), and was Visiting Lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts University in 2003. His current research focuses on media and cultural production in Southeast Asia.
His work investigates the liminal spaces that exist within and among performance art, video, cinema, installation, new media, design and paintings. Current issues exploration include memory, popular media, war & tourism, exile and transition, language, and narrative.
Artworks contents :
The series of paintings are based in part on photographs posted by members of online communities (such as Friendster and My Space). After saving over a thousand image, patterns began to emerge. One of these patterns is what might be called « sexy cute ». These photographs, often taken from extreme angles, create grotesque forshortening effects such as abnormally large eyes which in turn is one of the most identifying features of the type of illustration known as Manga. Also, with such angles, cleavage becomes a primary area of focus in the composition of the image. The paintings are a comment of the simplification of ones personality to the « fantasy » of the Otaku (often the introverted online voyeur or people that are prefer to be aroused by sexual cartoons over live people). This phenomena is the idea behind the three paintings: « Two Strikes », « Indecision » and « Kogauru ».
The other group of paintings of women speak of the problems very often addressed by women in these online communities, particularly those of Emo scenes. Maudlin, depressed, angst-ridden, lonely, and misunderstood, promiscuity, eating disorders. The paintings: « Sweater Mask », « Purple Scarf », « I Did Justin (Timberlake) », and « Pink » are about these categories of images.
Originally, I wanted to a paint photorealistic series of portraits of women based on images they’ve posted of themselves in online communities such as Friendster and Myspace. Given a large sample (that is, a lot of images), patterns emerge. One being the « cute »aesthetic. Images falling into this category are often shot from above, the forshortened perspective enlargening the eyes, and depending on the crop, offering a birds eye view of cleavage. The images go beyond simplistic Lolita associations, but for me relate to a larger culture of « complex cuteness ». I was suprised to find that actual, undoctored images of women taken at certain angles actually looked like Manga cartoons. They have in effect reduced themselves to cartoonish charicatures of the idea of cuteness. And it is through this departure that the series of paintings I’m currently working on have instead become flat outlined color, cartoonish and exaggerated. Cute but with something unsettling.
Finally, the last two paintings are about regional current events. The painting « Toy Hat » is based on the foam police hats sold by street vendors for children during Vietnam’s national holidays. The hat, a symbol of authority and law, becomes at once an indoctrination tool (as do toy guns) at the same time questioning the effectiveness of a police force riled by corruption. The last painting, « Elephant Doused Embassy (Chicken Observes) », records the 2003 riots in Phnom Penh that culminated in the burning of the Thai Embassy. The following year, approximately at the same time, Southeast Asia was beginning to feel the effects of the Avian Bird Flu (H5N1) Virus.
My work concerns current events and their representation filtered through various forms of mass media (online, print, radio and broadcast). These series of paintings are an extension of my opinions, comment and perception of events through these mediated discourses. Cute has been on my mind.
« The Loudest Sound »
Earlier this year, the United States courts dismissed class action litigation against the U.S. government and several chemical corporations on behalf of Vietnamese victims of dioxin defoliation campaigns over thirty years earlier. The case is currently in the appeals process.
Meanwhile, several hundred prisoners languish at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, awaiting their day in court as increasing accounts of prisoner torture and abuse continue.
There is a saying in Vietnamese that the more hollow the drum, the louder the sound. Inversely, the most densely packed are often silent. Listen carefully and you will understand.