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LêNA BùI, relationships between people & health research

Words by Lula Criado

1. life by death by life I copia

Lêna Bùi was born in Danang (Vietnam) but currently lives and works in Saigón. With her fascinating conceptual work, Lêna explores the boundaries of science, myths and different realities and looks into how human behaviour is shaped. 

Her concerns are focused on how different cultural, socioeconomic and sociopolitical backgrounds can affect and influence the way human beings behave. My first approach to Lêna Bùi’s work was at the exhibition Foreign Bodies, Common Ground displayed at London Wellcome Collection.

Foreign Bodies, Common Ground is part of Art in Global Health, a project funded by Wellcome Trust to promote thinking and debate by blending two disciplines such as art and scientific research. Artists involved in research expose the dimensions of the relationships between people and health research and translate the results into the pieces of art displayed at the exhibition.

While in residency Lêna Bùi explored the relationship between people, animal consumption and zoonosis research —an infectious disease transmitted from animals to humans. Lêna visited rural farming areas and small villages in Vietnam where scientists are investigating the human-animal interfaces. Her role as an artist made easier her work because people were more willing to talk to her.

2. eat by faith_detail copia

3. eat by faith_detail copia

What is more important: to take or not to take yourself too seriously in order to be creative?

I think you need both. To take yourself seriously enough to continue making work, even after serious failures; and to not take it too seriously so that you can actually let go and make work.

It’s good to enjoy the process for what it is – a journey, an exploration. It’s also good to have a sense of humour about things that you care deeply about.

What’s your favourite time of the day?

This is constantly shifting. I don’t think I’ve found the perfect time yet. I like late night when all is quiet, there’s not too much going on and I can finally settle down and think. But early mornings, when I manage to get up, are also incredible.

Solitude or loneliness, how do you spend your time alone?

I love people but they take a lot of energy. I need a lot of time alone to recharge. I’m very good at entertaining myself. There are so many things one can do alone, such as playing with materials, reading, watering plants, listening to music, etc.

Moments of solitude are precious moments of reflection and recovery. That said, when solitude turns into too much loneliness it can be difficult. It’s good to have solid friends you can call up, who will listen to you, feed you and put up with you lazing around on their couch without much to say.

Have you found beauty in unexpected places/situations?

Yes, it happens. It’s often a mixture of beauty in itself and a sudden state of awareness and perceptiveness in myself. Often I feel I walk through life in a blur, my head is somewhere else, and my eyes only act as a filter for obstacles.

For example, when I filmed the village in Trieu Khuc that collected duck feathers, it was really dusty and smelly, but at the same time quite beautiful.

What do you want to achieve before you die?

One step at a time. There’s a Vietnamese saying “When you talk first, you fail to follow through” But before I die I’d like to make something I don’t get tired of for many years; something that is meaningful to others as well…

One for the road… What are you unafraid of?

Actually, I’m afraid of a lot of things. But I try to pull myself together and give it a try. It’s always good to try.

(All photos courtesy of the artist. List of images: 1. thresholds of motion II: connections by proximity (2014); 2. Thresholds of motion IV: living raft (2014); 3. Life by death by life I. marble (2012); 4. Eat by faith. detail. photo printed on aluminium (2012); 5. eat by faith. detail. photo printed on aluminium (2012)
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