Hurt in here

Installation of dried pork skin, plexiglass box. Dimensions variable.


Lại Diệu Hà is among the very few artists who remain devoted to performance art throughout her practice, while tirelessly questioning its history and expanding its characteristics. Her personal history has also formed a part of Vietnam’s contemporary art history, specifically its performance art history. More than ten years ago, she performed the piece Hurt in here as a response to the art community’s somewhat hostile reaction after Nhà Sàn Studio was forced to close down (due to many reasons; one of which was caused by another piece by Hà titled Flying Up, performed at IN:ACT, 2010). Pork skin as a material made its debut in this performance. As the heat exuding from the iron came in contact with the damp pork skin, it was then transferred onto the artist’s own skin. Its temperature could have caused heat burns and hurt her.

Though Hà’s practice is often associated with controversy, in reality it is far more multi-dimensional. Her solo exhibition entitled Conservation of Vitality (CUC Gallery, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2015) witnessed the resurgence of pork skin. This time, in the form of a dried, hardened, and at times scorched material, pork skin was fused into mixed media sculptures through an approach and procedure that required meticulousness, patience and skill in the maneuver of materials. As the topicality of these events cooled off, Hà too put aside her personal matters to spend time alone in her studio, shifting her interest to social contemplations that ranged from the mythification of war to existential concerns such as the conservation of organic bodies.

According to Hà, pork skin is one of the materials that she has used for the longest time. In 2016, during her residency at Sàn Art Lab, Hà founded Psyper Lab – a collective that researches and practices psychodramatic therapy, with professional guidance from guests of the residency program, as well as therapists who practice psychodrama and their patients. This was an effort to expand the scope of performance art, and to introduce psychotherapeutic methodologies to artistic practice for non-art practitioners. In Undefined Boundaries (Heritage Space, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2017), Hà and members of Psyper Lab used unprocessed, air-dried pork skin in their collective performance. Patches of pork skin were placed on top of a metal frame wrapped in barbed wire fence; underneath it, there were two TV screens showing documentation of their private practice sessions.

Description from White Noise Exhibition Brochure, 2023, p. 7.


Hurt in here is remembered for its sociality. To say ‘hurt in here’ is to point to where the pain still aches today. The plexiglass box is just big enough to store the dried pork skin, or the remains of the performance Hurt in here (Nhà Sàn Studio, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2011), which alludes to the survival of two soldiers: the artist next to her pork-skin armor. The work came about as I was being criticized by many people. It was the patience in ironing flat each piece of skin in search for reconciliation and sympathy that, in fact, helped lay bare the judgment, imposition and suppression borne from prejudice.

At the same time, the act of ironing pushed the human and the pig (represented by its skin) to extreme exhaustion and manipulation. "The iron burned the skin on the artist’s arm turning the surface into blisters, which looked exactly like the popped pork skin when being fried. Dipping the skin into the water was a way to soothe the pain that they both were suffering from. Carrying out these scenes like a sacred ritual, the artist was determined to peel the burned skin off, and then wrap them in the pork skin. Flat ironing is the last step in the ritual to restore the balance of everything, to calm the heightening stress at the time and probably even until later."*

For this exhibition, pieces of pork skin are placed inside a plexiglass box, one on top of another to create a thickly-layered stack. Upon closer inspection of those slices made of protein, keratin, elastin and collagen, we are reminded that they are living entities. This artwork is meant to honor a life full of meaning, a life that deserves respect for it dares to sacrifice, a life that is freed from the bleakness of rationality, judgment and imposition.

Original statement by the artist from White Noise Exhibition Brochure, 2023, p. 6.

* Trung Phạm. A Journey from Performance Art to Psyper Lab. Unpublished article.