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Zelda Goes to the Gallery: Mr. Bastian the Time Traveller

Mr. Bastian The Time Traveller opened last week at the majestic HCMC Museum of Fine Arts, where Sri Lankan-born, Australia-educated Kumkum Fernando brought to Saigon this year’s most electrifying and refreshing exhibition.

While standing by the entrance door, people kept coming out and back in (the museum should really invest in some fans or aircons) to view the artwork. There, we could hear their comments and it was evident that the exhibition wowed many.

Courtesy of the artist.

The concept of time-travelling has been around for centuries, and when it comes to the imagery often associated with it, our history, literature, cinema and art have furnished a variety of theories as well as representations, from arcane machineries to futuristic spaceships. Fernando’s take on the subject combines these divergences with a personal, intimate subtext.

When entering the museum, visitors are presented with a written introduction explaining the origin behind the show, “He said he could travel in time and everyone laughed. As did I. Until I found his journal.’ Mr. Bastian was Fernando’s great-grandfather who died in 1938, the artist stumbled upon his estranged ancestor’s journal while helping his grandmother clean out the family house. It took Fernando a decade to decipher the contents of the journal, which culminated in the Mr. Bastian The Time Traveller exhibition, however many questions are still left unanswered.

Courtesy of the artist.

The approximately 40 installations included in the show do not attempt to recreate a world, but rather to lay out a journey that will take the viewer through passages of Mr. Bastian’s journal and his great-grand son’s visual rendering.   

For his extravagant installations, the artist has used found everyday objects, rocks, butterflies, logs, window panels and beetles that he has collected over the years from different countries; and has juxtaposed them with extracts from Mr. Bastian’s journal.

"Objects are sponges that absorb time and memory"

"One may time travel across one’s life"

The Collector’s Wall comprises 14 wall-mounted painting-installations, filled with dice, rusty locker-keys, clock-mechanics, bolts, corks, forks, spoons, butterflies and more that are positioned within simple, geometric shapes. The overwhelming yet balanced chaos created by the ordinary objects creates a contrast with the drastic, unmovable geometric figures that may well symbolise the false perception of the apparent fixed human life.

Courtesy of the artist.

"Page 13 – 16th May 1925 – Soon there won’t be any room left for the sky"

On the opposite wall, two large-scale mixed-media installations offer a radical change of tone. Here, red and yellow monochrome objects, leaves and woven fabric are used to create a portion of a seaside city where the industrial and dry impact of modernisation stands in contrast with the other colourful artwork in the room. Between the two pieces, flashes of Mr. Bastian’s thoughts and reflections about time, its perception and its correlation with the rest of the world are placed on the wall:

"Warning: ego does not mix with time"

"Yellow always catches up. You need to move. Time is always yellow"

Courtesy of the artist.

The citations could appear as ancient-religious riddles but in truth they are complementary of the visual journey. They will neither solve all the unanswered questions nor will they make the path easier but they offer a glimpse inside the man’s vision.

Fernando sets his antique and common objects on old rocks and driftwood logs to symbolise the stories captured and hidden in the natural elements.

Nearly the entire collection has been assembled via the collage technique, in which objects are fixed in clusters on panels, rocks or insects. Fluorescent paint is applied on each piece whose aesthetic is reminiscent of the punk and glam-rock years.

Courtesy of the artist.

Although Kumkum Fernando (whose primary occupation is as creative director for Lowe Vietnam) has previously created art installations for bars and cafes, Mr. Bastian The Time Traveller is his first solo exhibition. Considering the impact that his visual aesthetic had on the audience last week, we hope he will have more to come.

Mr. Bastian The Time Traveller closes on Sunday, November 30th.

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