The influential trends driving Hanoi’s contemporary art world. Changes in attitudes. Spaces in which to exhibit, to collaborate and create. Emerging artists hungry to showcase talent, experiment with material and to explore new territory. Without these vital factors art stagnates; Bill Nguyen, curator and co-owner of Manzi Art Space Hanoi, discusses these driving forces.
In 2010 Vietnam’s longest-running non-profit artist initiative Nhasan Studio was shut down by local authorities following female artist Lai Thi Dieu Ha’s nude performance. Ha, as part of a performance, took off and said farewell to items of clothing that for years had restricted her from escaping society’s idea of the perfect female body, baring herself to be true to the world and especially to herself. Photos of the piece – without any background information or explanation – flooded the Internet, sparking debate about public decency and national traditions.
After years of ups and downs and various ‘pop-up’ art projects – including Skylines With Flying People at the Japan Foundation and Nhasan Collective at the unfortunately now closed Zone 9 – the Nhasan crew returned to their place of birth with a group show to mark their 15th anniversary.
A new method of communication is needed instead of the guerrilla, off-the-radar approach which Nhasan has for years adopted.
Once again their biggest challenge is dialogue with the authorities – or rather, the lack of it. A new method of communication is needed instead of the guerrilla, off-the-radar approach which Nhasan has for years adopted. Then again, no one is sure if the straight-laced authorities would ever be willing to be more open towards the experimental artists. It would be amazing though to see the two ends of this spectrum sit down and have a conversation. Cup of tea anyone?
Meet the next ‘it’ girl of the Hanoi art scene: Thuy Tien Nguyen. 2013 was a big year for Tien. Not only did she take part in two of the most talked-about photography exhibitions of the year (Autopsy of Days, curated by Jamie Maxtone-Graham of Hanoi DOCLAB, and Deconstructing Memories, curated by Nhasan Collective), she also stormed the performance art scene with her bold, sexually-provocative and mentally-challenging live pieces in which the roles between artist and audience are switched, and the gaps between fact and fiction blurred.
At 21 years old, Tien approaches art instinctively, with honesty and a youthful rawness. She is also daring and extroverted, trying out different personas – including as a detective, a lady-boy go-go dancer, a prostitute, a caretaker for the old and a Japanese lounge karaoke girl – to attempt to figure out her own complicated, chaotic and insane self.
To make sense of a nonlinear work of art requires a more active and creative involvement. Instead of passively viewing we need to engage in a more intellectual, analytical and critical thought process.
All three embrace a new methodology of art in which found objects that embody symbolic, memorial, historical or religious value are used – altered, combined and accumulated – in order to construct a narrative, but one which is nonlinear, difficult and often confusing. Unlike works which act simply as visual stimulation or possess fairly straightforward narratives, to make sense of a nonlinear work of art requires a more active and creative involvement and interaction on the viewers’ side. Instead of passively viewing we need to engage in a more intellectual, analytical and critical thought process. We have to look for clues, pay attention to different parts of the work, reconstruct and recombine the threads to figure out how and if they will be tied up. Although not new within the worldwide art scene this methodology is truly ground breaking here in Hanoi, indicating a shift in peoples’ perception of what art is. That art can be about ideas, concepts and intellect, and not just about the visual.
Introducing one of the most loveable Internet-based community/participatory art projects in recent years: The Black Hole by photographer and graphic designer Nguyen Hoang Giang. ‘Let your secret out. Let me illustrate it.’ Giang’s instruction is sincere and welcoming, yet challenging, asking us to disclose the deepest, darkest and most vulnerable corners of our souls to the internet. A world that for some can be merciless, unforgiving and intolerable; and for others, the only place they can call home.
As we give away something of ourselves, we are in turn given a piece of someone else.
The project raises questions about why we all have the need to conceal and reveal certain information about ourselves; and how we can be so willing to share them with someone we do not know, yet may, for a second, regard as our closest friend. Above all, it gives every single one of us – those who have sinned, lost and messed up; those who have been damaged, used and abused; those who are hurt, repressed and depressed – a space to be heard, seen and become equal. Because, as we give away something of ourselves, we are in turn given a piece of someone else.
The Work Room
Saigon Hub and Work Saigon may be rocking the co-working space concept down south, but we have Work Room Four making waves up here in Hanoi. Not only do the cool, hip and creative minds and freelancers now have a proper space in which to share ideas, showcase their products and work together, but everyone can get involved with the classes and workshops on offer, including textiles, illustration, life drawing, painting and fashion. Although another casualty of the Zone 9 shut down, they have managed to carry on operating and will soon be re-opening in a new dedicated space.
Compared to other creative venues and art spaces in town, Work Room Four embraces a friendlier and less academic vibe. With the classes and workshops run by specialist and passionate practitioners of different creative fields, they open up conversations and encourage exchanges, acting almost as a bridge between the art circle, which can at times be a little intimidating, and those interested in art. So what are you waiting for? Go check out their website, be inspired, sign up for a class. Beware, you are expected to exercise your creative faculties to the maximum, get extremely hands on and have a whole lot of fun along the way.
Think you have to go to school to learn about art? Think again. And how about a class where the student not the teacher provides the material and gives the presentations? That’s what happens in the Course on Understanding Contemporary Art (CUCA). Started in 2012 by Prof. Pham Dieu Huong of the Vietnam University of Fine Arts in collaboration with Hanoi DOCLAB, CUCA was the first independent art education program for people of different ages and backgrounds in Hanoi.
There is indeed a high demand for art education among the public.
CUCA turns the standard class structure upside down using a ‘bottom-up methodology’ which puts the learner at the centre. For each session, groups research artists of a particular movement or time and put together a presentation to outline key ideas. Sounds easy? In fact it really isn’t – not at first anyway – especially for 30, 40 and 50 year old Vietnamese who are not used to this kind of study. Still, the program is running well and now includes classes on History of Aesthetics, Contemporary Dance and Classical Music Appreciation, proving that there is indeed a high demand for art education among the public.
Edited by Rose Arnold