A little over a year after Zone 9 opened a documentary was being made about its demise.
Fabiola Büchele considers the bright flare that was art hub Zone 9
Words by Fabiola Büchele ● Edited by Rose Arnold ● Images Zone 9 Documentary
An air of uncertainty and impermanence hung over Zone 9 from the first beer served at Tadioto until the area’s final closure in December 2013. It was perhaps the very allure of the place. Certainly the patrons had a stark awareness that it would not last.
When asked about the longevity of Zone 9, just after moving in with her music hub Domdom, experimental musician Kim Ngọc said: “I don’t want to think of it. The rent agreement is only for three years – no way to have a longer deal. But Domdom can float around the city if it has no permanent residency. Floating some time is not a bad situation.”
Perhaps no one expected to have the project dismantled quite so quickly, but then no one really knew much at all. The beauty of Zone 9 was that it just happened. It was more a wild cocktail of dreams than a shared vision. It proved both what is possible if you act on opportunities with your full and best intentions, and the vulnerability that exists as the other side of that coin.
A documentary by director Nguyễn Anh Thư exploring the rise and fall of Zone 9 is in its post-production stages. It is set to explore the questions of how, “in eight months of brief wondrous existence, had Zone 9 created a vibrant community for artists and cultural entrepreneurs? Why did the authorities shut it down in such haste?”
Hopefully the documentary will continue to delve even deeper into just what Zone 9 was in the end. When it was finally shut down after the death of six renovation workers, it seemed unclear what it had become. Developing at a staggering speed, it had gone from underground art hub to popular fair ground and photo opportunity in a matter of months. Some of the creatives were already lamenting its loss of integrity before it closed. The dream had come unhinged.
Four months into the opening of Zone 9, Nguyễn Quí Đức said: “It’s a cycle which I have seen in art hubs in New York and especially in London—without state intervention. Of course it is the artists who make it a place of interest and then the commercial interest follows. The cycle normally takes one to three years. In Hanoi it was three months.”
The dreamers and visionaries—the ones willing to take risks and ask for a new era of free thinking in Hanoi—inhabited the city long before Zone 9’s arrival and they inhabit it now.
Crucially the next step in the cycle described by Đức is the relocation of the creatives when their underground playground is dragged into the spotlight. In no city is the in-district stationary. By the time rents spike, commercial interests move in, and tourists flock through the streets, the creatives have already gathered elsewhere.
This is a crucial factor to consider when contemplating the closure of Zone 9. The creative undercurrent of Zone 9 did not disappear with the eviction notice. The dreamers and visionaries—the ones willing to take risks and ask for a new era of free thinking in Hanoi—inhabited the city long before Zone 9’s arrival and they inhabit it now.
As Bar Betta’s Nguyen Ban Quang said, they simply all moved in together for a bit: “Us creatives had been spread across the whole city. Now all troublemakers are at one place. We’re not really causing trouble though, it is just difficult for them to categorise us.”
It is not the art world that is back to square one, but the authorities who are back to having to spread out to a number of addresses across the city.
In the same time span as Zone 9 became a bustling place of entertainment with 60 odd business ventures, most of the art hubs have resumed their work elsewhere, opening up again in various places across the city. Really it seems it is not the art world that is back to square one, but the authorities who are back to having to spread out to a number of addresses across the city.
All art worlds have blips of excitement, myth-ranked places where creativity and inspiration experience a high. Yet the long lasting effects of Zone 9 remain to be seen. The important questions to ask now are about what remains of those experiences. What are the continued conversations that commenced at Zone 9? What ideas, collaborations, future ventures and art movements started there? Is it possible to develop a stronger art community here in Hanoi – one that is less vulnerable and more able to protect itself from attack? Will the attention that ensued from across the world be honed into something useful? Perhaps the Zone 9 documentary will be able to shed at least some light on the questions that still exist long after the dust has settled.
To find out more about the Zone 9 documentary and support them visit their website www.zone9documentary.com