Things About Me: Phạm Kiều Phúc on life, philosophy and design
On the top floor above Module 7 on Xuân Diệu is Phúc’s studio apartment. A round, airy light filled space that she designed herself, stuffed full of unique and personal pieces. She made us fresh lemonade and told us about the stories and inspiration behind her design philosophy.
Interview by Maia Do ● Photos by Yên Nguyễn
CD: “Uncaged” by Charles Pasi
Over the past two years, I’ve found myself questioning the path I’m taking. [With my business] the managing part is too big, bigger than the designing part. They conflicted until a point where my artistic self was being starved, crying out for food but I didn’t know what to do.
I heard him sing at L’Espace. He has a booming voice and was very straightforward on stage. He said he was partying the night before until 2am, so his voice was raucous. When I met him there was some kind of connection. I found him so artistic, so free, and passionate with what he does. [His music] inspires me to get back my own inspiration, to know what to prioritise. Maybe I won’t be that good at business but I’ll have time to do what I like.
His music is jazz but it has stronger beat; and some songs sound like blues.
Behind every piece of fabric I hold in my hand I see a story. This is a belt by Mông people. I think it’s aesthetically perfect and beautiful, I want to understand how they are able to make it. Maybe one of the explanations is that they live so closely with nature. And as nature is the greatest creator, maybe they absorbed this harmony.
Dao people embroider from behind, which means they can only see the patterns after they finish embroidering. The patterns are complex, and made without preparation. To me, that’s amazing. They create those patterns based on experience. Even though they don’t have many different patterns, you cannot find two pieces that look alike. And the way they put them next to each other is pretty much like the design theory that I used to establish Module 7. I mean when we strip away everything that is unnecessary, focus to bring everything to one element or module. And we transform that element, that module, to make it into other things.
I think when something reaches perfection, it’s done; but if it just gets close to perfection, it’s more interesting.
This type of glass, uniquely Hanoi, is being replaced, by glass which is better but without as much emotion. These glasses are blown manually; none of them are round, or look alike. They are rough, and filled with glass foam. I have a peculiar love of imperfect things. I think when something reaches perfection, it’s done; but if it just gets close to perfection, it’s more interesting.
In one of my trips to Japan, I found a book entitled on Japanese Design in English. Sibu is [the concept of] a kind of old and imperfect beauty. Maybe, imperfection [in Japan] is more personal, more human. But there’s a thin line between imperfection through lack of thought and the imperfection coming from a master who creates a tiny little mistake. Those are different things.
If you offer me a brand new glass with no foam, I still think this one looks better. Moreover, there’s emotional reasons for liking it. This glass is associated with me, with all the times I’ve had beer with friends. I don’t know if there’s any other place in Vietnam that has this type of glass. Just like the image of girls selling flowers on bicycles, Sấu trees or Hoa Sữa trees, this glass is part of Hanoi.
Happy Accidental Finds
I bought this at a market on Lê Công Kiều street, where they sell antique Saigon objects right in District 1. I was too picky so I only bought the two most beautiful ones. One I gave to the Greek Ambassador’s wife when I designed their house, and the other I kept for myself. It’s slightly curved, with two tiny ends covered in copper shaped like two lifting hands. Small but perfect. I love minimalism, and objects like this always catch my attention.
The other one, I got recently on my latest trip to Cao Bằng. Markets in mountain areas always has wrought iron things, plough blades, or buffalo bells. People still need them in those areas.
The shape is so beautiful. It’s a plough blade, so it has to be pointy and flat in order to plough dirt. I bought two of them, intending to give my friend one. But when I brought them home, and saw that they looked amazing next to each other, I decided to keep both. Tram from Manzi came over the other day, she saw them and asked ‘Have you shown these to sculpture students? They will cry when they see these!’
A Photo of Daughter
I remember this moment, when she was four, about 10 years ago. She has changed so fast, so I love looking at photos of her when she was kid.
I did not plan to take this picture. I saw her sitting there, so I picked up the camera and took a photo. She was not in the mood for photos so you can clearly see her true characteristics.
I like taking photos just for fun. I’m not patient enough to go into all the parameters, or lenses. I take beautiful pictures when the weather is nice, and light is good. Otherwise everything is a mess.
Điềm Phùng Thị Art Book
Điềm Phùng Thị is a famous sculptor. She was Vietnamese, a dentist, and lived in France. During the war, I guess she wanted to find a way out within art. She created her own alphabet [within sculpture]. She could match the seven elements [of her design] together, in unlimited ways. It could be a small jewel on the neck or a giant monument.
You can see [in these seven elements] what she was concerned about, what she loved, and what she fought for. She did not give names to these elements, but they became so recognisable that people started to call them ‘Điềm Phùng Thị Language’. She influenced me greatly, the name Module 7 coming from this inspiration.