Café Chardonnay – alles nehmen
1 August – 4 October 2020
Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof is pleased to announce the first institutional solo show by
Café Chardonnay – alles nehmen is the title of the exhibition by the Essen-based Vietnamese-
German artist who’s been making a name for herself in the Rheinland since 2016. Her work
often revolves around questions about the meaning of life, the status of consumption within it,
and the roles one falls into all too easily, not to mention the ruptures between them that
happen every day and the cultural contradictions that emerge. Drawing on Vietnamese
Buddhism, there seems to be an insurmountable gap between the belief in accumulation in
the here and now and in life as a station between birth and death running through her work.
The paradox Phan pursues in her multimedia works unfolds somewhere between consumer
goods, self-stylization, and projected role models. They contain a sober kind of humor that
would normally make you laugh—but, on closer inspection, their uncanny realism makes the
laughter stick in your throat.
Phan’s videos work with a seemingly private everyday aesthetic of trivial self-stylization that
makes you think they weren’t a precisely planned spectacle, but that’s what they are in the
literal sense of the word. Architecture, furniture, picture-in-picture situations, and the
protagonists oscillate in their depictions and actions between inner desires and outer
representations, between their own notions of identity and the gazes of “Others.” Her
camerawork and editing evoke YouTube videos and suggest a kind of intimacy that goes hand
in hand with a sense of aimlessness and restlessness. Yet this aspect also makes them equally
inaccessible at times.
For her exhibition at Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof, she has produced a new video and two
new groups of sculptures. The empire-style furniture wrapped in banana leaves and sheets
with only lion’s paws and painted red claws sticking out recalls the elaborate precautions
taken against dust in 19th century drawing rooms, where you would receive guests and fulfill
the social obligations appropriate to your status. The reliance of this status quo on hard, often
female, domestic labor usually remained hidden. And even today, well-kept furnishings
convey the achievement of a certain status in life, while the work needed to get there is often
concealed by their attractive sheen. Take everything—and give everything.
The second group of sculptures combines model trolleys with megalomaniacal wedding cakes
made of silicone, which could just as well be models for skyscrapers. While the beauty articles
and small domestic altars arranged like sets in a type case below speak of a planned and
organized life, the oversized cakes testify to oversized expectations. Together they illustrate
the contradictions of living in a post-migratory, neoliberal post-capitalism, where everything
can be subsumed under the desire for individuality. Or at least that’s the kind of thing you’d
think before noticing that your power to achieve your own vision of success is also a
commodity in itself.