Now available: Art History Journal, Eds. Dorothy Price and Sonia Boyce

Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier: Three Decades, Four Moments

Susan Pui San Lok

Art History Journal, June 2021

Excerpt from Introduction:

‘Three Decades, Four Moments is based on the edited transcripts of two interviews that took place in 2016 and 2017 with the artists Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier in their studio in London. The text foregrounds a number of works by Phaophanit/Oboussier, signalling four ‘moments’ in their artistic practice over several decades, at turns identified as individual, collective and collaborative. In these, we may find coincidences, correspondences and divergences from the three (or four) ‘moments’ in Stuart Hall’s essay – moments that interrogate the space of the ‘international’; that complicate the ‘problem space’ of the 1980s (sympathetic to yet never aligned with ‘black diaspora arts’, nor ‘young British art’ for that matter); and arguably always already inhabit and explore the ‘thematics of what Zeigam Azizov calls ‘the migration paradigm’ – boundaries and border crossings, liminal and disrupted places, voyaging and displacement, fault lines…’

The ‘four moments’ here are prefaced by two (or four) beginnings: ‘Beginnings – Laos, France, England / England, France’ contextualises the artists’ respective early entries into Western art and education in the early 1980s – Phaophanit training as a painter in the classical French system, at once expected to identify with an established French ‘School’, while also expected to produce ‘Laotian art’; Oboussier encountering the burgeoning postcolonial transdisciplinary intellectual culture of Sussex University. ‘Beginning again’ contextualises the emergence of their collaborative practice and thinking through their involvement with two collectives, one located in Brighton, the other internationally dispersed. At the beginning of his essay, Hall takes time to acknowledge the close intersection of ‘personal, intellectual, political’ paths with Raphael Samuel (in whose memory his lecture-turned-essay was given). Here, these multiple ‘beginnings’ outline the crossing of personal, intellectual, creative and political paths – not only with each other, but also, importantly, with wider networks and groups both ‘local’ and ‘international’.’

Still image from ‘Never real historians, always near poets, 2019