chapter
3 Pages

Danh Vo

In the ongoing multiple Untitled (2009), Danh Vo recuperates his father’s calligraphic

skills to produce unique handwritten copies of the final letter of the Catholic martyr St. Jean-

Théophane Vénard. The 1861 letter is Vénard’s farewell to his father on the eve of his execution

in Vietnam. In a way, the work is a merging of the personal and historical experiences of Vénard

and Vo, and the impact of the former on the artist. While Vo’s father’s calligraphy is exquisite, the

elder Vo does not know French and therefore does not understand the meaning of the text he is

copying. Rather, his letters are pure visual copies based on a common alphabet whose convention

reveals a layer of the colonial history of Vietnam. By presenting text as pure form, Vo articulates

language as a site of symbolic exchange rather than communication. Vo embraces the many

potential interpretations of the work, as well as the fact that some meanings will always remain

unattainable or obscured for the viewer. Such circulating meanings-away from consensus-are

at the core of Vo’s work. The discontinuities, resonances, and impenetrabilities constitute the

work itself.