Future Greats 2024: Hiền Hoàng

Hiền Hoàng, Made in Rice (still), 2021, three-channel performance video, 19 min. Courtesy the artist

Selected by Fi Churchman

Soy sauce oozes from a woman’s nipple. A pair of pinching fingers guides its flow into a half-filled bottle of Kikkoman. Her pores are saturated and stained sepia by the brown liquid. If you are what you eat, then Hamburg-based Vietnamese artist Hiền Hoàng’s series Asia Bistro (2019–) cannibalises that adage, presenting photographs that suggest that you could also eat what you are. Other photographs in the series include a block of firm tofu sprouting course black hairs; a fillet of raw salmon, the flesh of which is cut open to reveal two glaring human eyes; a pair of chopsticks gripping a disembodied tongue that could also pass for a slab of mentaiko; and a moistened sheet of rice paper pulled taut over labia.

Rhey ran’t ro rhe R!, 2019, UV print on Plexiglas, soy sauce bottles, 60 × 40 × 15 cm, from the Asia Bistro series, 2019–ongoing. Courtesy the artist

Hoàng presented a selection of this series at the annual photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles in 2023, for which she reconstituted the images as distorted rectangular sculptures made of Plexiglas and installed some on a wooden scaffold, others on the floor, balanced precariously atop empty Kikkoman bottles. Crumpled and deformed, the photographs are warped so that they’re sometimes pockmarked, and sometimes acned with variously sized plastic pustules. The result are works that simultaneously convey a sense of fragility and aggression. The installation, titled Across the Ocean, also included an excerpt from the video performance Made in Rice (2021) projected onto a screen: a woman wearing an emerald-green unitard sits cross-legged in front of a row of potted orchids, behind which is a backdrop of a floating sampan boat; blobs of bao are attached to her arms, torso and legs, and she begins to wet circles of rice paper, wrapping the moistened semitranslucent sheets all over her body, and eventually around her head until it looks as though she’s in danger of suffocation.

Pink puddings or be friendly, 2021, inkjet print, 45 × 30 cm, from the Asia Bistro series, 2019–. Courtesy the artist

These are not just straightforward erotically charged foodie images. Hoàng engages in a kind of critical self-fetishisation that draws from her experiences of racial abuse and sexual stereotyping while living in Germany. And though Asia Bistro and Made in Rice were created in response to her own encounters, it’s an experience shared by many women of Asian ethnicities and heritage living in the West. Hoàng uses food items in Asia Bistro (titled after a pan-Asian restaurant in Berlin the artist visited as a student) to demonstrate the perceived interchangeability of Asian cultures, as well as conflicting attitudes when it comes to accepting the cuisines and yet not the people. She consolidates these ideas with photos whose aesthetics tread a wafer-thin line between the appealing and the abject, foregrounding Asian bodies as consumables that are at once seen as sexually desired and repulsive, and at the same time socially rejected. In the latest iteration of Hoàng’s works at Arles, the twisted and distorted photographs feel angry, as though in the physical manipulation of her own prints the artist is continuing to process the psychological and emotional impact of such experiences. When I look at Asia Bistro I’m reminded of the time an ex-housemate leaned over me in the kitchen and asked: “Does your cunt taste like soy sauce?” And I’m angry too.

Smooth Silk, 2023, UV print on Plexiglas, soy sauce bottles, 60 × 90 × 15 cm, from the Asia Bistro series, 2019–. Courtesy the artist

Hiền Hoàng is a multimedia artist from Vietnam, currently living in Hamburg and working with photography, installation, performance, film, VR and object art. She has a master’s degree in photography and design from HAW Hamburg. This year she will be included in PhotoIreland, Dublin; Fotodok, Utrecht; and Manifesta 15 Barcelona.

Fi Churchman is senior editor of ArtReview

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