Danh Vo and Pratchaya Phinthong met during a workshop led by Rirkrit Tiravanija in Copenhagen in 2002; their friendship became cemented two years later while they were studying with Tobias Rehberger at Frankfurt's Städelschule. Since then, the artists have developed concepts for artworks, conducted project-based field trips, and even once shared an apartment. But so far none of this has led to specific works that are coauthored or -signed. The closest they came to making an official work together was during a trip to Vietnam last year, where Vo researched indigenous cultures and Christian missions, and Phinthong took photographs. Though not an artwork in the traditional sense, the trip represents the global scope of their practices, and the way they interact, particularly when delving into feelings of displacement and foreignness.
Vo, 33, is Vietnamese, but when he was four years old he moved to Denmark, where his family settled as refugees. "I am fascinated by the tiny diasporas of a person's life," Vo says, explaining his penchant for auctions and estate sales. He has appropriated photographs from a scientific researcher stationed in Saigon during the Vietnam War, as well as a series of letters Henry Kissinger wrote to Leonard Lyons, an influential New York theater critic, acknowledging the receipt of tickets for Broadway shows. Through other people's personal belongings and epistolary exchanges, Vo explores a political history and context that he has familiar ties with, i.e., Vietnam.
Phinthong's practice developed primarily in Bangkok, though the 34-year-old artist has spent a significant amount of time in Europe over the past five years. His best-known work, Missing Objects (2004-5), is a collection of photographs and installations made for specific friends scattered throughout the Continent: a landscape of cigarettes for Vo in Berlin, a carved ring for Nathalie Boutin in Paris, a Qianlong ball for Superflex in Copenhagen. When viewed together, the display of objects describes his journey through his relations with others. His more recent photographic installation of the moon also constitutes a back-and-forth, this time of viewing positions. One image was shot in Paris, and the second from the other side of the world, in the Chatham Islands. In both the same subject is represented, but is seen from diametrically opposed locations. And one might say the same of Vo and Phinthong's friendship: depending on how you look at it, it's either collaboration or companionship.
"Pratchaya Phinthong + Danh Vo" originally appeared in the December 2008 / January 2009 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' December 2008 / January 2009 Table of Contents.