Porcelain Medals

Courtesy Sàn Art.



Porcelain hand painted; edition 5/5, 140 porcelain medals for each edition.

Khánh’s porcelain medals, like his vases, were produced in the ancient kiln village Bát Tràng, outside Hanoi. Made in a large series of several hundred, they are the artist’s playful but deeply serious meditation on the self-serving, propagandist aspect of official reward. Khánh’s medals are fictional hybrids of American, North and South Vietnamese, French, Russian, and Chinese military insignias. In their exaggerated volume and whimsical decoration, they counter real medals’ preciousness and association with a specific feat or sacrifice. Designing 7 distinct medal moulds, Khánh manufactured hundreds of biscuit porcelain medals which he then hand-painted and gilded such that most are individualised – singled-colour ones are the only repetitions. Individually, the porcelain medals are jewel-like: delicate press-moulded relief details, lustrously glass-glazed, finely painted, and lusciously coloured to present an aesthetically-pleasing whole. Khánh leaves the medals’ installation and display open, underscoring their critical strength based on concept, whatever their presentation. This curator, opting to mound them in their hundreds like common pebbles, played-up volume to underline the mass fabrication (or cheapening) of reward that is supposed to be as individual and precious as the sacrifice recompensed. Porcelain Medalsbijoux aesthetic and fragile porcelain also translate them as faux medals, such faux further undermining the certainty of the validity of war. In their distortion through artistic means, medals are shown as tools of power, operating to camouflage the disconnect between soldiers-as-cogs in a vast war machine serving abstract nationalist interests, and human risk, possibly ending in death. 

By producing pretty medals from fragile porcelain – prettiness and delicacy the opposite of war – Khánh creates disconnect and tension of battle bravery and sacrifice creates call into question personal agency to consider reasons for social behaviour beyond state directives. 

Text by curator Iola Lenzi for the solo exhibition of Bùi Công Khánh: Porcelain Medals and Jackfruit-wood Grenades at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, 2018.