Brian Vu’s new project ‘Spirit Power Song’ has a very different tone to his previous series’. Unlike the colourful spectrums that were seen within ‘True False,’ these images are dark and haunting, with blood reds, black shadows and blue neon light. They conjure up a sense of anger, suffering and loss.
Brian tells us, ‘For so long I was making colourful work that was meant to heal through this idea of inner and outer beauty. As I was continuing to make this work, I realised that it was merely a distraction from the truth.’
These images are deeply evocative. Be it through the contorted bodies, staring eyes or symbolic objects- we feel the pain and anxiety in ourselves too.
Brian’s work has strong political and social connotations: religion, race and sexuality hold an essential role. These issues haunt his works, as they have haunted him. He tells us, I address race ‘like every photographer should, through equality and not through racial fetishization.’ For me, this project reflects the minds of a generation frustrated and despondent with the current state of the modern world.
Chroma talks to Brian Vu about Religion, Darkness and Originality
Your work has been described as psychedelic, like ‘praying to God on an acid trip.’ What are your reasons for choosing to manipulate and distort colour and light?
At first, I was photographing everything as it was right in front of me. I started tapping into myself further, and as a result, my work became surreal and took me to places outside my own reality.
Your work contains many eerie references to religion. How has religion influenced you and your work?
I was born and raised a Catholic. Religious iconography is used to show that. Though it is an essential part of what made me who I am today, it carries a shadow that inflicted many mental injuries onto me.
What scares you most about faith?
The promise of eternal life.
I can’t help but sense darkness and anger in your work. In particular through your use of red and black, fragmentation and blood. Do you think your work reflects the current political times? Is politics important to your work?
I would consider myself a passionate person. For so long I was making colourful work that was meant to heal through this notion of inner and outer beauty. As I was continuing to make this work, I realised that it was merely a distraction from the truth. Through these last couple of years, my life has been really intense. A lot of life experiences have occurred that have made me into a completely different person. Through all of the suffering, I turned to work that reflected this heartbreak and loss. A lot of it was political. So politics are becoming more important to the work, yes.
What makes you feel angry right now?
Racism has always bothered me.
What emotional response do you want the viewer to get from your work? Are your emotions important to your artwork?
The best that I can hope for is that people can relate to it. My emotions mean everything to my work. I get ill if I don’t work on anything for more than a few days.
How important is the idea of beauty to your work?
Since I studied design, a lot of my work is about aesthetics. Everything in this world is based on aesthetics, and people need to realise that. There is a decision made on how everything looks. I get a lot of shit for my work looking as ‘pristine’ as it does, but I've accepted it because that’s what makes it mine.
Your work focuses on contrasts, opposites and duality. What is it that draws you to these themes?
There are always two sides to every story. I want to hear both sides.
Do you think art in contemporary times can ever be original? How do you try and distinguish yourself from the crowds?
Completely. I believe originality inherently comes from whoever made the work. Even if you’re blatantly inspired or copying someone else's ideas, it will never be the same. It will always be you who created it.
I don’t try to be original every time I make art. I just want whatever I'm doing to serve a purpose and to say something that I haven’t said before. Trends (especially in commercial work) in photography are ridiculous and boring to me; I don’t follow them.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got to where you are now (regarding your photography and style)?
Tonnes of practice. Tonnes of Experimentation. I work myself into the night. There was a lot of making bad art to make good art. A lot of figuring out what I like and what I don’t like, all through trying new things.
Are issues of race and sexuality important to your work? If so, how have you addressed them?
It’s essential to my work. I address them like every photographer should, through equality and not through racial fetishisation.
Finally, what comes into your head when I say red and the body?
Symbolically, red is the colour of life (the colour of blood and fire). It’s associated with intensity, ardour- which can result in fury and cruelty. Red also stands for sexual passion, at times murder and anarchy. The body is a vessel, and it is beautiful.
words: Emma Phillips