Savanhdary Vongpoothorn

Frozen Ground, 2000
acrylic on paper
50.0 x 50.0 cm
signed, dated and titled (on reverse)

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Niagara Galleries, Melbourne 
Acquired from the above by the present owner in June 2000

Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, June 2000, cat.11 

Savanhdary Vongpoothorn's Frozen Ground (2000) is highly detailed and layered work, both in its physical form and in its conceptual foundation. Created by hand using a technique that stems from traditional Laotian textile stitching, the holes and raised perforations in the work build a complex web of repeated forms which, when viewed as a whole conversely evokes the tradition of minimalist abstraction. The connection between Vongpoothorn's Buddhist beliefs and her practice is apparent in the work, in which each mark can be understood to reference the repetition inherent in breathing, chanting and music.

  • Frozen Ground
  • Frozen Ground

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Savanhdary Vongpoothorn’s paintings lie at the nexus between the principles and aesthetics of Laotian textiles and western Minimalism. With her distinctive technique of punching holes in her canvases, Vongpoothorn exercises a strong command of texture and materiality across her paintings. Many of Vongpoothorn’s works bear Pali titles and refer to concepts or principles of Theravada Buddhism, and there is an evocative sense of mystery and the search for meaning in works that resist definition and encourage contemplation.

Vongpoothorn’s practice involves repeatedly piercing each canvas, a highly time-consuming process which she has spoken of as meditative. The result is more textural than visual and, in a sense, mirrors the undulations of woven surfaces in traditional Laotian textiles. John McDonald has written that “Vongpoothorn’s work defies the camera” for its level of intimate, physical detail that has to be observed at different angles and distances (‘Savanhdary Vongpoothorn: All That Arises’, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September, 2019. 

Not only this, but there is an immense amount of cultural knowledge and understanding in Vongpoothorn’s work, which has integrated over time aspects of Vietnamese aesthetics and other cultures along the Mekong. She has also held repeated residencies in Japan, including the study of calligraphy, and regularly references the Australian bush around Wedderburn and the ACT, where she currently lives and works. Across these many influences, however, Vongpoothorn has not superficially borrowed from any one cultural tradition but, rather, she has taken pains to thoroughly integrate her understanding of these influences into her existing style.

Vongpoothorn and her family fled Laos when she was just 8 years old. The Laotian Civil War – or “Secret War” (1959-1975) as it was called by the United States – saw the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic under communist rule and the defeat of a coalition of royalist and anti-communist forces, including Australia and New Zealand. Those opposed to the Communist Pathet Lao, including Vongpoothorn’s father, were forced to flee, which her family did in 1979 through a refugee camp in Thailand.

Exhibiting in Australia since 1992, Vongpoothorn’s work has been shown and collected by all major public institutions in Australia. In 2005, the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, acquired Incantation, 2005, a major work included in Part I of the NGA exhibition Know My Name (2020-21). In 2019, she received a major survey exhibition, All that arises, Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra. 

Savanhdary Vongpoothorn is represented by Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney.