a Gate Between Heaven and Earth
Transient Sculpture – 2018
A small dirt road covered with mud from an earlier rainstorm cut across a paddy field of newly planted rice stalks that seem to run until the end of the earth. Standing on this path was a strange structure, aged in look yet not ancient. The structure was simple in design: four tall rectangular columns, two stories in height, with an antiquated pagoda-like roof. The walls of the columns, worn from the harsh rainy weather of the tropic, now sport a rustic pastel yellow finish that chipped to reveal the vibrant burnt sienna clay bricks underneath. The roof, also aged in look, is adorned with small sculptures of flying carp. On the front face of the structure, a sign with the name of the village gleaming in the distance is hung. Beneath it I stood; heart warmed as I know, after a long journey, I am now home.
On this trip home to Vietnam in 2012, I was captivated by the village gates, the architectural elements that dot the Vietnamese countryside. These structures stand at the border of each village to mark the jurisdiction of the local governing body. They indicate the boundaries that separate the domesticated space against the wild and unknown spirit realm. As freestanding structures with no walls or doors, these gates serve no physical purpose other than as signifiers for the moments of transition between home and the rest of the world.
For this project, I designed a specialized wooden joinery that enables the straight columns to be deconstructed and reassembled by self-interlocking connection points. When fully assembled, A Gate Between Heaven and Earth forms a framing structure, capable of fitting me inside – a permeable shelter. When deconstructed, the object is the size of a Transportation Security Administration approved carry-on suitcase, with a weight of less than twenty pounds. This aspect of construction and deconstruction permits the work to travel anywhere and by any means.
The colors red, yellow and green are ubiquitous in Vietnamese pre-war architectural designs, introduced by the French architects during the colonial period. In my formative years, whenever I imagine a picture of a home, I would draw a yellow wall structure with red clay roof and green window shutters. These colors offer a sense of comfort and belonging. And so, just as the aged village gate welcomed my heart back home, this artwork is an object of comfort, a shelter that I carry, a holographic portal that will always bring my heart home.