Vong Phaophanit was born in 1961 in Laos. He was educated in France from 1972–78, and studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux–Arts, Aix–en–Provence from 1980–85. Phaophanit currently lives and works in Exeter. His working practice includes an ongoing collaboration with the writer and artist Claire Oboussier.
Recent solo and group exhibitions include: IT IS AS IF
Vong Phaophanit and
Claire Oboussier, Block 336, London; Vong Phaophanit: Line Writing, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland (2014); Shanghai Biennale (2004); Void Gallery in Derry (2005); The Tropics, Berlin (2008). Phaophanit also recreated What Falls to the Ground but Cannot be Eaten (2009) for The Tate Collection, London. Phaophanit and Oboussier have also exhibited previously at venues such as Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa, IMMA, Dublin, Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, the Shanghai Biennale, and the Void Gallery, Derry~Londonderry.
He was short–listed for the Turner Prize at the Tate Gallery in 1993, where he exhibited his well–known Neon Rice Field, mounds of rice in straight lines covering neon lights.
Memory plays an important part in Phaophanit’s work and his choice of materials, including bamboo, rubber and rice, often referencing to his Laotian heritage. Although Laotian references are an important component of Phaophanit’s work, he is often concerned with contextualising this interest within broader aesthetic and philosophical concerns. Phaophanit is best known for his sculpture and installations, which employ familiar materials to expose multiple layers of contradictory meaning. An early installation entitled What Falls to the Ground but Cannot be Eaten at the Chisenhale Gallery, London, in 1991, was composed of an austere architectural gateway and a light suspended bamboo installation creating an important dialogue between both material and cultural differences. Laotian text adorned the ceremonial gateway through which one entered the installation. Since then, Phaophanit has frequently used Laotian text in his work. The nine red neon words of Litterae Lacentes (Light Writing) at Killerton Park, Devon, in 1993 were placed on a garden wall where bamboo and palm trees had been planted. He did not translate the words for his audience, in an effort to communicate the challenge of living between cultures. Following this, Phaophanit developed an interest in neon and LED light technology and has worked frequently with architects to develop new ways of working with these materials.