KVT – O Tannenbaum O Tannenbaum at the Metropole

KVT – O Tannenbaum O Tannenbaum at the Metropole

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KVT gets into the legendary triangularity of Christmas

My favorite theory about Christmas trees is that about the Paradise Tree that was used in the heady, raunchy morality tales dramatized by traveling troupes through Europe in the middle ages. The paradise tree represented the tree in Eden and was hung with fruits and tempting sweeties and cookies. When the wowser Christian leaders grew in numbers in the 16th century they outlawed the Paradise Tree but a lot of the people who liked a bit of fun and frolic and who thought that religion should be a bit of a spectacle started to put the small decorated evergreen branches in their homes hung with eatables and baubles.

Along came Martin Luther with his brand of religious protest and he decided that if you couldn’t get the people to give up paradise trees you may as well give the trees another meaningful meaning and so he told a little morality tale of his own about walking through the fir tree woods on a snowy winter’s night and looking up at the stars and imagining them twinkling on the boughs of the trees to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The idea took off.

A couple of hundred years later a follower of Luther went to England to become King George the third’s wife. Queen Charlotte had an indoor fir tree lit with wax tapers and hung with sweetmeats set up for her first foreign Christmas. The trend spread amongst the well to do and the trees grew more decorated and elaborate each year….even though some proved to be effective house burners.

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I know! I know! The picture above is of good Queen Vic and her beloved husband Bertie plus four of their nine offspring! Albert is usually given kudos for the intro of the Xmas tree to the native English speaking world but it was actually his relative Charlotte who was the progenitor of all of our modern Paradise Trees that decorate a great portion of the world of believers and unbelievers for a few weeks around about this time of the year when the halls are decked with fake snow, jingle bells and the anticipated arrival of a red nosed reindeer

The Sofitel Legend Metropole has lit itself up at night inside and out to indicate that it too is truly is a spot of paradise in old Hanoi.

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And to help a few of the underprivileged who cannot access much of the comforts of paradise into their impoverished lives has set aside a verandah where eleven of our best local artists, brought together by Art Vietnam, have been sponsored to exhibit their versions of Christmas trees and to hopefully allow some wishes of those underprivileged children come true. For the background details click here.

Viewers are asked to submit their vote as to their favorite tree.

Of course many of the artists are relative newcomers to the historic concept of the Christmas tree or Christmas itself so their ideas were able to flow more freely than, say, an artist bred and steeped in the mysteries since birth.

The tree that shimmers beautifully in the purple colors of its sponsor Thai Airlines, was conceived by Tran Hoang Son.

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Son took the charitable aim of the project to heart but decided to give the tree a decided oriental flavor. Chains of paper origami birds hang from top to base, They could represent the symbolic, biblical doves but are more likely the 1001 Cranes of Peace, the folding of which confers one special wish on those with the patience to complete the task ….be it peace, happiness, longevity or eternal good luck…..in this case we could assume that the artist or volunteers have made the cranes to represent the wishes of the poor and needy children who are the unseen focus of the exhibition.

Mind you, with the crane population in Vietnam being depleted by pesticides etc, perhaps a lot of us should join Tran Hoang Son in folding thousands more to ensure their prospect of longevity.

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A delicious aspect, for me, was that some of the artists probably came to the project with a decided social commentariat bias and I was looking forward to seeing how they’d approach the modern bling commercialism of the Christmas season and if they’d be able to, or dare to, poke a little subtle humor or irony the way of their sponsors.

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My number one favorite tree was the one I initially thought may be an enormous white phallus. A great way to indicate the miracle of the Immaculate Conception, I thought, and also able to appeal to those amongst us who revere lingams. And then I thought it makes a nice comment about how the ‘savior of the world’ born of woman and a symbol of peace and justice and charity has been historically commandeered by men.

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But no such thing. One of those artists that I hugely admire, Nguyen Van Phuc has manufactured a giant matchstick out of myriad cotton wool buds and thus paid beautiful homage to Hans Christian Anderson’s little match girl who froze to death in the snow covered city streets while the rich and comfortable ignored her. It was another excellent and thoughtful accompaniment to the charitable ethos of the event.

Phuc’s sponsor was MasterCard and they win the sponsor vote by a mile because they were able to accept the irony that some viewers may infer.

It makes you wonder, though, that if the Virgin Mary had birthed a girl child then would we be so lit up and jolly at this time every year!

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Nguyen Nghia Cuong has given us one of his excellent sexy females (another of his Venus in Vietnam?) albeit a blousy angel in traditional Vietnamese dress, formed around a huge copy of a Hennessey Cognac bottle.

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The Spirit of Christmas would be an apt title. Sponsors Moet and Chandon are to be congratulated on their sense of humor. I can imagine the shepherds quaking in their wool lined boots and being sore afraid as this slurring angel confronted them as they watched their flocks in the fields by night, and invited them to celebrate the new birth with a bottle of sparkling champagne.

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The Murphy Oil Corporation which has the lease of some undersea areas off Vietnam for oil exploration sponsored Nguyen Hoang Nam and his perspex pyramid is a delightful concept with the light of truth and peace and goodwill spreading upwards from the depths.

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Another reading may have the sculpture representative of deepwater block 144 and 145 before drilling commenced. The oil still awaiting deliverance at the base.

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Pham Huy Thong was another artist who wanted to represent east and west with his interpretation. After a lot of lateral thinking he decided that he would invent a kite in the shape of a fir tree. Now some western viewers may erroneously infer that it’s a body stocking made to keep a tree warm. All Vietnamese immediately know it’s a kite ready to soar above the world ….in this case, to herald the new arrival.

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Thong’s sponsor is the Canadian insurance corporation, Manulife whose premiums covers a lot of us.

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Christmas, as most of us in the native English speaking world know it was partially invented in the 1920ies by the Coca Cola corporation who decided to re-imagine Saint Nicholas from the popular 1822 poem, ‘The Night Before Christmas’. The PR people of that time came up with one of the best advertising snow jobs ever! The fat, white bearded man in a red suit with a black belt would immediately remind people of their fizzy cola drink. What a success it was with all sorts of accoutrements gradually added to the new legend…such as reindeer and sleigh and jingle bells and all of us dreaming of a white Christmas etc, etc,etc

Thus it was pertinent that Nguyen The Hung, sponsored by Coke, give us the distinctive bottle encased in a symbolic tree.

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Coke can probably be congratulated as the corporation that secularized the festive season.

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I liked Nguyen Quang Thang’s inverted tree for Art Vietnam with its lanterns festooned with season’s greetings in various languages. Another distinctly oriental confection.

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The Bayerische Motoren Werke sponsored a delightfully elegant triangle marbled with elegant baubles on branches in the distinctively elegant colors of luxury BMW cars.

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At first glance one was reminded of an oil slicked road surface at night until you looked closer at the elegant and tasteful, almost antiqued jeweled planes beautifully applied by Dang Anh Viet.

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Deloite sponsored Ngo Van Sac’s triangular tree cunningly constructed of smaller triangles decorated in his inimitable style.

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The Metropole was represented by a set of transparent baubles that wanted to break free, float away, then reform in any number of delicious configurations. Constructed by Nguyen Ngoc Lam.

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The tree by Dinh Thi Tham Poong, sponsored by the British multinational banking and financial giant, Standard Chartered, was the hardest for me to decipher but it’s industrial feel made my imagination do a few tangential leaps.

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And to conclude….another vision of night time at the Metropole…. and a hope that lots of you will brave the chilly nights (the best time to see the exhibition) and cast a vote and perhaps donate a bit to help a child’s desperate wish eventuate.

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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.

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