The Succession of Nature at the Baltimore Museum of Art

Interview January, 2018

Phaan Howng at the BMA

Can you talk about the title of this show, Succession of Nature?

The title was a work in progress between me and the museum. I originally wanted the title to be, YOLO don’t you know it’s the end of the world, named after YOLO…and Skeeter Davis has this song that really influenced the work. It’s really sad, but it’s about a losing a lover, or well..being dumped pretty much, and how it’s kind of funny that we’re pretty much being dumped by the world, because we suck. She sings, Why do the birds keep on singing…don’t you know it’s the end of the world…and I was like, that’s like the world saying goodbye to us. But she has this beautiful voice…anyway, the museum said No, it’s not going to work. I was thinking and running through ideas that kind of go with what I’m doing, but I didn’t want something super obvious. And then I thought of a few options like the Sublime Succession of Nature, The Triumph and Succession of Nature, The Succession of Nature: YOLO,  a bunch of stuff  like that and shared it with the museum. But the Communications team and the Director of Interpretation and Communication  [at the museum] liked Succession of Nature, (which worked out great because that was my favorite) and wanted to add Phaan Howng to the title… so that’s how it became Phaan Howng: The Succession of Nature.


How did the collaboration between you and Blue Water Baltimore come to be a part of this show?
In the RFQ we were required to partner with a non-profit, so obviously I looked to partner with an environmental group. I wanted to work with a non-profit that dealt with a broad range of environmental issues, so I started out with a basic search online and then tried to find organizations that dealt with all issues. I reached out to a few, and one said maybe, but then they said no and  recommended Blue Water Baltimore. I sent a letter to them, with my credentials and ideas d and they said yes! Samantha Keene pitched me to their upper management and lead the way, and then I worked with Michele Anderson directly to come up with various ideas that we can collaborate together with,  and did our presentation to the BMA together. It was an awesome fit, they were really nice.


This exhibition is on view for much longer than most average opportunities, did that force you to think differently about any of the work you were making?

Knowing the length of exhibition time to be about 8-9 months, and how the room would be used, really forced me to engineer and fabricate certain objects accordingly, i.e, the benches, the shelter, floors, etc. However, everything was pretty much made the same way–paintings/wall panels were still painted on paper, the logs were made with paper mache, etc–because I still wanted to materials that are recyclable, and still maintain my language of painting.  The museum did warn me that no matter what, people will touch things, and not be considerate of objects, especially with a space like mine. But personally, I view it as a perfect situation to conduct an anthropological experiment to see how destructive people are, how the exhibition can deteriorate over 9 months due to human activity (even though if something breaks, I have to fix it), to have it reflect  on whether or not we can fix our current environmental situation, and also use that knowledge for creating future work. Hopefully, humanity can prove me wrong. Due to the nature of the gallery being an educational space, I also was brought with the challenge by the museum to think about public outreach and community engagement, which I have never done. I felt that the challenge really made me think about my studio practice in new ways, and has contributed positively to make my work grow.  Ultimately that’s how the zine was created. It is simultaneously an educational tool for the public to learn about Baltimore watersheds why water is important, and why we should be more conscious about it, and works as an art object to make the zine more precious. I also made the zine free for everyone, so this information can really get out into the public.  


What do you think you learned or gained from finishing this installation that has pushed your work forward or informed your next direction?

I was more confused afterwards than I was motivated to do something new. I was so over it, and almost hating it, but I think it was me being more exhausted. It’s what I call post-show partum. Now I’m liking where I’m going with the work, but at the same time wanting to figure out how to take my practice further.  Maybe more towards performance, which I did for this opening and it was a lot of fun. It did open another avenues of art making, and makes me question what else can I do.

ENDOWebsite_1 copy
website that accompanies the show and performances

Are there any more events or programming with this show in the near future?

There are a couple of environmental programs that Blue Water Baltimore will be doing so don’t miss that! They are great! There will  be another Art After hours event in March, I can’t tell you what I will be doing for it, you’ll just have to show up.  I will have other fun and interesting events that I am still trying to finalize, so stay tuned!

Anything else you would like to promote?

I have a solo show at AAC (Arlington Arts Center) in the Spring. I’m going to be focusing on creating  videos and doing more performances… and we’re all going to die.


Photos by Joseph Hyde



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