KVT – The Clouds Will Tell / Nha San Collective

KVT – The Clouds Will Tell / Nha San Collective

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KVT 2014

Ban Ga

KVT gets amongst the clouds and other delicious things @ 24 LY Quoc Su

If an unaligned art historian writes a book about art in Hanoi in 50 years time a main chapter, plus lots of footnotes and references will be devoted to the Nha San decade plus of art and artistic thought …pre 1998 until its unofficial close in 2010. That closure of Nha San Studio, founded by Tran Luong and Nguyen Manh Duc….who’ll be worthy of their own chapters ….was lamented and mourned by lots of us…but it wasn’t to be the last of the stilt house logo.


In early July I was in Edinburgh and The Scottish National Gallery teamed up with its sister, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to showcase examples of the best contemporary Scottish art from the past decade. Scintillating stuff! Wouldn’t that be nice if we could do it, unhindered, in Hanoi!!! A DECADE OF VIETNAMESE CONTEMPORARY ART

Back to Nha San. A very pertinent and important exhibition to showcase the development of contemporary art in Hanoi would be A DECADE OF CONTEMPORARY ART/NHA SAN or A DECADE OF CONTEMPORARY ART BY ARTISTS MENTORED BY NHA SAN…either would knock the socks off any intelligent aficionado of contemporary art

In late 2012 some of those mentored artists grabbed the chance to collaborate with the Japan Foundation and a couple of eccentric and talented Japanese artists and curated a month long pop up exhibition called SKYLINES WITH FLYING PEOPLE


Nguyen Phuong Linh whom I aptly described then as one of those renaissance type people who push boundaries and ideas with like minded colleagues such as Tuan Mami and Nguyen Quoc Thanh and a co-opted mob of artists proved that they could fly very high indeed. For that month Hanoi had an idea of what Nha San Studio could have become and from it seemed to sprout the Nha San Collective …….


…….which grabbed onto the potential of a Zone 9 Art Area and hiccupped along with officialdom until the whole glorious dream imploded……

But its not the past we want to dwell in….its the present and the future and a new venture that wears the name Nha San Collective….same inventive, nicely eccentric people at the helm but in a new, upwardly mobile space at 24 Ly Quoc Su

They’ve had a grand opening and their first exhibition by artists who are or who have been associated with the Nha San brand, is up and running until October 5th. After that they have to start proving that they truly are going to re-invent artistic norms

In part their mission statement is: Nhà Sàn COLLECTIVE is not a museum, a gallery or an international culture institute where completed work are presented by established artists. Just like Nhà Sàn Studio before, it is a working studio to nurture where artists can create, collaborate, be given advice, critiques, and have chances to meet with international artists, curators.

It’s an interesting space they inhabit and worth checking out even if all you do is have a drink at the nice LaCa Café on the same level which the Collective sometimes uses in their collaborative projects. Soon the commercial and Western owned gallery Art Vietnam will be a very close neighbors and it will be interesting to see how and what creative sparks will fly and intersect between the two art concepts.

The opening show THE CLOUDS WILL TELL was a grand event that I missed due to appointments at museums of contemporary art in Australia but apparently it was a huge visual, social and intellectual success…..so I could hardly wait to get along to see the ongoing exhibition that mainly showcases work already seen around the traps by some proven and some still proving art practitioners, including some who’ve featured at recent international biennales and triennales. See info about most of the participants here.

As an ongoing exhibition CLOUDS succeeds a lot and flops some. The flopping in no way due to the quality of the art work which is definitely intellectually stimulating….but due to too much in too small a space. It is an exhibition that would succeed with honors at one of those national galleries in Edinburgh or at PICA in Perth, Australia and most definitely at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney where the works could breathe and where the video art pieces, in particular, could be thoroughly engaged with. In fact it is one of those shows that could engage critical audiences in major art spaces throughout the world.

Like so much of the best contemporary art by Vietnamese artists it has a very global feel to its themes.

One piece de resistance was the installation loaned by Nguyen Manh Hung. This was fitting because Hung was curator of the original Nha San Studio before it closed and he married and re-located to TP Ho Chi Minh. The very eye catching GO TO MARKET featured at his outstanding solo show at Galerie Quynh in Saigon last year and later at Manzi in Hanoi which are worth recapturing here or here. Hung has had considerable overseas success with his art work.


If Vietnam was ever to have a pavilion at the Venice Bienale that was allowed to showcase the new and avenge garde direction of its art practices and practitioners- and if I was able to have a say about the practitioner- I’d put forward Tuan Mami as one of my choices. Tuan Mami knows how to push the envelope and his work (performance or installation) always makes me think a lot.

Tuan Mami’s installation in the exhibition is a deceptively simple looking-even if thick- book that presents photographs of 1000 common objects, deconstructed and visually reconstructed into objects of wonder as you turn the opaque pages. It’s the third time I’ve come across the ‘Book’ which to me is a bit like a modern day illuminated manuscript.


Just about any educated gallery viewer knows that art works ARE NOT TO BE TOUCHED and if they have to be then a stern gallery guide is nearby to ensure that you wear clean cloth gloves.


Tuan Mami delightfully confuses viewers who stand by hesitating before realizing that they have permission to dabble into the intriguing illustrations and turn at will like inquisitive kids. His 1000 ART OBJECTS WHICH HAVE LOST THEIR CONTEXTS is an art object I’d like to have around my house.


Nguyen Phuong Linh has a huge wall piece that given development funding would be a total standout. Her SANCTIFIED CLOUDS is a series of photographs that from a distance are more like images of delft porcelain or skyscapes by early Dutch landscape painters. As you walk towards them you sort of start to remember your geography lessons and name the cloud shapes…cirrus, stratus, cumulus…until you realize that these are all man made clouds, the aftermath of exploding bombs. It’s a hugely affecting work and as the images scatter and grow smaller I was reminded of monstrous things like shrapnel that fly willy nillly to collide with what war makers call collateral damage  …meaning any human in the way….It’s an art piece that has an immediate connotation with world leaders meeting right now to consider just how effectively they can once again blow the bejeesies out of innocent human collateral in parts of the Arab world.

Phuong Linh

Another mover and shaker in the collective is the quiet Nguyen Quoc Thanh whose photographic series, STREET MEMORY, of 8 young Vietnamese women wearing identical ao dai and photographed in different places in the old quarter is installed on a wall in the café. It’s another winner. At first glance most viewers would think it’s a nice bit of decorative tat taken from some tourist magazine or a ‘Beautiful Vietnam’ TV extravaganza. You can just about imagine the characters bursting into syrupy song.


Then it dawns on you that this just might be a send up

Quoc Thanh photographed 8 women whose lifestyles are considered to be outside the Vietnamese social norm. They  are shaking their heads to represent their societal stereotyping and their being re- stereotyped as typical, traditionally compliant Vietnamese maidens in traditional, stereotypical places….a

lthough the locales are also seen to be undergoing their own continual changes

Perhaps one reading of the series could be: don’t judge us by our exterior constraints and imposed constructs

It’s another powerful work from the man who previously impressed me with his performance cum photographic installation at Skylines and which was considered s a bit of a security risk to have displayed.

Nguyen Huy An is another retiring type of person who is well known for excellent performance art and more recently for a marvelous pond of ink at last year’s Singapore Bienale which you can access if you scroll through this link.

But Nha San is more concerned with his ongoing series of another pond that he has been quietly and meditatively painting in watercolor on do paper or silk since 2004….and truly meditative they are and whenever I come across one I am stopped in my tracks.

They are of the same pond and floating water pavilion in front of his childhood house. Over time the simple landscapes have become more and more minimalist and offer intense serenity with a few from the series below. The first being the only one in this exhibition.




If I was to curate Nguyen Huy An’s ponds at a major gallery I’d be tossing up whether I should put them in one room to rival Monet’s Waterlillies or to scatter them into small quiet places throughout the gallery to allow viewers time for quiet contemplation.


The only other non video  installation is a very cunning work on overhead fan blades titled FranceWithdrew- Japan Surrendered- Emporer Bao Dai Abdicated which one day will get the space it deserves to whirl slowly and dramatically, and which, you can find tucked away upstairs. Vu Duc Toan is a well known performance artist who along with Nguyen Huy An founded Appendix, a performance collective.


A long time ago I went to Prague’s first art Bienale and a whole swag of it was made up of videos shown in very small cubicles on very small screens. When, in later years in saw some of these works in large screen format I was blown away. Blown away is the effect on viewers that all of the videos at Nha San would have if there was the space to show them …as they deserve to be presented

Two works that really demand their own full wall screen are THE BROKEN CHAPTERS by Nguyen Tran Nam and SALTED by Ban Ga

Chapters is a compelling video, two and a quarter minutes long on a continuous loop. It’s a self portrait but could be of any victim of violence anywhere (that’s how I wanted to read it). It’s a shockingly mesmerizing work that repels as it fascinates. It would be a winner anywhere.


Salted is a two hour long minimalist work of a man at the ocean edge and an incoming tide. It can be watched for long periods at a time, in small snaps, or periodically. For those who like to be alone with nature sans mobile phones etc, it is a meditative delight. For those concerned with global warming and rising sea levels it is prophetic. For those who feel a bit Virginia Woolfish it will be full of melancholy. For people like me who was born near the ocean and grew up with the sound of waves and who, at least once a year yearns for the consolation of long, deserted coastlines, it is pure heaven.

Ban Ga

Nguyen Thuy Tien’s video CASE 1953 is a bit lost in the corner of the café but would shine in its own quiet space where its nuances could be contemplated. No suitable image of her work is available so I’m including a still from a portrait series of an old woman she is closely associated with and which was exhibited with other photographic work at Goethe. Her artwork is about retrieving her own memories and is usually as fascinating as this below.


Finally there is the video JO HA KYU by Nguyen Trinh Thi whose work shone out at last year’s Singapore Biennale…see this link

Here follows an extract from a piece I write about Jo Ha Kyu when I saw it at The Japan Foundation in 2012:

Film artist Nguyen Trinh Thi and photographic artist Jamie Maxtone-Graham have a very beautiful and poetic exhibition at the Japan Foundation Center for Cultural Exchange on the corner of Tran Hung Dao and Quang Trung.

Early last year the pair spent 6 weeks in Tokyo and ‘Jo Ha Kyu’ is the collaborative, artistic result.

Jo Ha Kyu is an old Japanese term that Thi and Jamie liken to a small stream expanding into a river which eventually becomes a waterfall that crashes into a still pond…a description that is visually vivid enough to imagine as the idea behind a traditional Haiku… before it is pruned into its perfect word picture.

Thi’s video art piece filigrees into exceptional visual haikus. Even the sound track is its own aural series of these poems.

The Jo Ha Kyu is followed through beautifully in this meditative art work as it opens with a low white noise that becomes an urban train with commuters sleeping and then hones on a child who leads us into a wide eyed meandering discovery of a city.

The child motif recurs throughout the film, perhaps allowing us to see the city in an uncomplicated, wondrous way…allowing it to unfold its prisms nonjudgmentally.

Exhibition Jo Ha Kyu 1

Exhibition Jo Ha Kyu 2

Exhibition Jo Ha Kyu 3

Exhibition Jo Ha Kyu 4

Exhibition Jo Ha Kyu 5

There’s a commencement to the Ha section of the piece that makes you gasp… when a bystander becomes the conductor of the action and we begin to have a big band score, reminiscently West Side Story, filter in and out playing accompaniment to the marvelous choreography of feet and legs and bodies…the river simile, I guess, that widens and flows, eddies, stalls, pushes and pulls and then rushes frenetically until it crashes into a very still and green treed denouement where the child seems to take us by the hand and lead us to a place to pause and allow reflection.

Those filigrees: the masks and faces (wonderful sequence). Tradition and modernity; youth and age; urban gloss and decay; concrete, glass and asphalt that spills suddenly into trees and moss and deep cool shadows; night and day.

The part featuring a china rabbit and the naked jumper is impossibly beautiful and the symbolism of the moon that becomes measured time is pure poetry.

The more I sat through the film, the more I got softly enmeshed in its silken threads and that weave and spill pleasantly through your mind.

SO there you have it…Nha San Collective is off on its new adventure

Like all such art spaces the collective can only fully develop if a person or company decides to invest it with financial patronage. To this end the collective has wisely got the services of a marketing manager. I wish Thuan Uyen Le all the best and hope that sponsorship is forth coming and fast. Nha Sans…be they studios or collectives…are very vital in our too fragile art environment

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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