Les amis de la maison rouge commissioned Thu Van Tran to produce a work for the patio, a glass-encased space in the centre of la maison rouge.
One hundred and ninety-two thousand four hundred and thirty-eight: the number of workers employed by Renault at its Billancourt plant until its closure in 1992. One hundred and ninety-two thousand four hundred and thirty-eight: the last roll number given to the last worker to have been hired there.
In 1989, when Marguerite Duras heard the factory was to shut down and the last remaining workers laid off, she responded with a text describing a project in which the names of every single man and woman ever to have worked there would be recorded in an exhaustive list; a "proletariat wall." "We should reach the size of a major capital […] History would be number: truth is number […]. Truth would be the still incompared, incomparable number, the pure number, the number without comment, the word."
Duras, who was then almost 80 years old, asked for help in bringing this insane project to fruition. Twenty years later, Thu Van Tran has fulfilled the author’s wish and taken it beyond its original formulation. Inspired as much by Duras’ life as by her novels and essays, she has returned to her project and exposed this event as an injustice done to the workers at Billancourt. The artist, who has worked for the past two years from a studio overlooking the disused factory, wishes to commemorate the human element of this story and interact with her own everyday environment.
Thu Van Tran has produced a commemorative sculpture whose architectural form is one of contemplation and pacification. The patio becomes a garden, open to the sky. The structure, which is made from timber covered in sculptor’s wax, comprises four columns joined by rounded arches. One of the arches replicates the entrance to the Renault factory, conserved in its original state at the Boulogne-Billancourt site. At the point where the arches meet – the keystone without which the entire structure would collapse – is an enormous bolt, taken from a precision-turning workshop. This single bolt is inscribed with the "pure number" 192,438, a synedoche for the exhaustive and impossible list which Duras had so desired. The workers’ all-important presence on the assembly line is thus evoked. From a stylistic point of view, the arches can have religious overtones while the columns suggest Brancusi. However, Thu Van Tran’s sculpture springs from a process of internalisation and transformation of history into potential incarnations, which she has introduced into the patio. Thu Van Tran thus continues her research into memory and territory. The list of names appears, partially at least, in the sound installation that completes this work.
Thu Van Tran has asked the singer Agathe Peyrat to recite the first known names of the Billancourt workers. Her frenzied enunciations rise into a piercing, hysterical scream.
Born in 1979, Thu Van Tran is a Franco-Vietnamese artist who graduated from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) in Paris in 2003. She came to public attention with Fahrenheit 451 Homme Livre Homme Libre, her solo show at the Bétonsalon arts centre in Paris last year. Curator Christian Bernard (Désordres de la Mémoire) presented her work at the Printemps de Septembre in Toulouse in 2009. Her work was also part of a group show at Galerie Martine Aboucaya in December 2009. Thu Van Tran was a beneficiary of an individual creation grant from the Île de France department for cultural affairs (DRAC) for this project. solo shows 2009 : Fahrenheit 451 Homme Livre Homme Libre, curated by Melanie Bouteloup. Bétonsalon - Centre d’Art et de Recherche, Paris (France) 2007: ICAROOH, curated by Hubert Olié. L’Espace - Centre Culturel Français de Hanoi (Vietnam) 2006 : Lumière Arrière – Musée des Beaux Arts / Villa Steinbach, Mulhouse (France)