KVT takes a stroll around the city’s commercial byways
Nguyen The Son’s new exhibition at Goethe is worth seeing…from a distance and up really close, and as it’s a success story I’m going to amuse myself on a cold Saturday afternoon by circumnavigating around it and traversing through it in a wordy way.
The art gurus sent out the word that it was a great show so I turrned up at the opening at Goethe and couldn’t see anything for heads, bums, bellies and legs, not to mention TV cameras and realized again why I don’t often go to opening nights of art exhibitions. Mind you, it wasn’t all wasted as I bumped into lots of artists that I respect and Ha Manh Thanh showed me some digital images of his latest series which looks seriously brilliant.
The next morning found the exhibition hall all but deserted, except for two starry eyed art students who took lots of photos and peered closely at the exhibits but more often into each other’s eyes, and two very tall westerners who did a quick circumference, threw some cursory glances, declared that it was ‘only photographs!’ and walked out in that casual bounding way that young, slim, long legged males have.
And only photographs they are…but photographs that are delightfully different. On one wall are tall, night time images of brightly neoned karaoke dens – printed on scrolls of traditional Do paper, succesfully usurping the delicate and inked images we usually associate with that medium. And of course, on the concrete face of the city’s main throughfares these temples of song, sin and seduction are amongst the premier, gaudy usurpers of architecture (good, woeful and indifferent) with their giant, inviting and enveloping, billboard faces (suggestive, woeful or indifferent).
Film maker Peter Greenaway once said that behind all art, and therefore the motivation for all human activity, is sex and death. Nothing more. Museums of Modern Art tend to exist to illustrate Greenaway’s throw away line and Son’s work is arguably made for such a one.
It’s the streetscape facades that line two walls that garner most attention…and rightly so!
In his previous exhibition at Art Vietnam, Son had city building constructions and renovations shrouded in nylon dust catchers that resembled delicate veils and swathes of soft fabric that were seductive of their promise of a higher, modern future. Now he shows some of these renovations shrouded in the promises of a better and brighter life that advertising hoardings so successfully seduce us with.
In so much of his work the human component is dwarfed or made insignificant by the city burgeoning over them and impersonally around them, or lost in the shadows of night. But, for me,they are the most dramatic and poignant part of his work and in this exhibition they come to the fore…figuratively so, as they have been cunningly laser cut from the mounted photographs and assembled in 3D format that brings them into focus as real people who, for me, became the focus of the work – as they were probably meant to be.
You have to get up nostril close to the facades which are all pretty marvellous constructions with so many 3D illusions…windows and shutters, power lines, trees, ballustrades, cornices etc. You find youself peering along them, down into them.
My mind was taken back at one stage to the same space in April last year when Nguyen Manh Hung presented his 3D diorama construction of a crumbling, post war apartment building in which the humans had an invisible but palpatating presence and who were wondering just what paradise awaited their offspring 30 years into the future. And now they know. And though its more sparkly and colorful and NOISY, in many ways it may seem as bleak as the one they inhabited, certainly less communally vibrant and far, far more impersonal. Hung’s ‘Paradise’ was set amongst dreams not yet soured and with their feet set a tradition honed in rural customs and beliefs. Son’s ‘Paradise’ seems to have a nihlistic tone wherein there’s a suggested sense of a growing general rejection of customary beliefs in morality and religion etc.
I’m keen to see if Son continues with his chronicling of the city’s development. It is a great sociological study. Also makes a very good artistic statement. In another 3 years it will be interesting to see what the trend will be. Perhaps we’ll be able to see actual buildings revealed.
The exhibition is titled ‘Nha mat pho’ or ‘houses facing the street’. Most Vietnamese know it with its aaccompanying phrase ‘Bo lam To’. Put the two together and we have the Vietnamese slang ryhme that became popular after the market economy grew legs and started to run: Nha mat pho, bo lam to roughly translated from the vernacular as: houses facing the main streets are owned by people high up in the government and their sons make ideal marriage prospects.
When you get to the exhibition, ask about its very handsome catalogue…the essays therein are far more erudite and accurate than mine and are one of the reasons that I’ve been allowed to stay in the realm of speculation and fun.
But whatever!….you can’t go past Son’s streets…with refinement they could be biennale quality stuff, and perhaps you’ll agree with me that it is all about sex and death, wonderfully so! It’s on until the 25th and worth spending time promenading and then going out into the wide world and see it all again, life size…but take time to take note of the people in the real scenes too, for in the long run they are the bits that matter…with their daily preocupations and meditations on sex and death.
|Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.|