Open-Studio “Why Stand?”: A Continued Transition of Tradition in Practice by Young...

Open-Studio “Why Stand?”: A Continued Transition of Tradition in Practice by Young Artists

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Written by Út Quyên for Hanoigrapevine. Traslation by Châu Giang.
Photo credit goes to the Organizing board
Please do not copy without permission.

Open-Studio: “Why Stand?” which has wrapped up the Future of Tradition project starting from the 19th to 21st of July has shown an interesting continuation of traditional values through 10 contemporary art practices done by 11 young artists.

La Mai’s performance-installation art is reckoned to be the one closest to completion in Open-Studio. Drawing inspiration from the Xúy Vân giả dại (Xúy Vân Fakes Going Mad) excerpt in the chèo (a form of generally satirical musical theater) Kim Nham, La Mai’s performance is composed of three parts. The first one was her notes on the play excerpt which she has re-watched on loop for 38 days: all the written letters and symbols densely stacked over one another to the point of illegibility- this is when the artist’s soul delves deep into the excerpt, in order to feel sympathetic towards, or even “become” a Xúy Vân. In the second part, the written notes were enlarged, all CNC-printed and cut out on formex sheets. Using high-end technology and up-to-date materials, La Mai unraveled her emotions during the 38 days as a way to observe. The final part was a prolonged performance at Open-Studio’s opening night, in which she was clad in all whites and repeated the same motion of filling the gaps in-between the CNC printed materials on the solid sheets laid on the floor with white sand, over and over.

White sand was used by the artist as a material to connect the piece’s first and second part. Although everything was white, the sand could never hide the traces that the symbols had left on the formex sheets, like how the traces of tradition within each being, regardless of modern life, or the wide range of emotions they go through when growing up and maturing, could never disappear. In this work of La Mai, time is not perceived as the usual linear progression. She believes in the concurrence of the past and future, and tradition is neither a separated, distant thing nor it juxtaposes the now, but rather its presence is always there, deep within every individual.

The work titled Open Rehearsal was another performance piece, where the artist invited the audience to observe a practice session of a Tuồng (a genre of Vietnamese theater) artist (Nguyễn Đình Nam) and a contemporary dancer (Hoàng Hà). In the first 45 minutes, the artists performed slow and simple choreography, and in the next 45 minutes, they would practice with a 3-D masks under appropriate lightning arrangement to cast strange, fascinating character silhouettes on the wall. The audience might not fully understand the “dance language” or the definitions of good-evil, right-wrong, conflict-harmony that the artists had brought forth, yet they would certainly be intrigued by the dialogue between the two dance/theater genres which seemingly fail to find a common point yet are attempting to discover, explore, learn from each other, and transform its own body languages and ways of narration.

Two performance practices by La Mai and Trang Linh took the spotlight and created the climax for Open-Studio’s opening night. It’s a shame that the spaces accommodating both performances were to close to each other – one was too still and minimal whilst the other was too mobile and complex. The lack of room seemed to create two radically different space-time spheres, causing much confusion to the audience who were trying to pay attention to both.

In a humble corner right by the studio entrance, Tuấn Nị invited the audience to step foot into his artwork by getting themselves a pair of headphones to listen and observe the motions of sound on the computer screen. “Cải thế nào thì Lương? (How can one Cải for it to be Lương?) is a pun-title brought to life from the artist’s exploration of the meaning of Cải Lương, in which he was explained: Cải means to transform, Lương means betterment, and Cải Lương is a genre that always transforms and evolves with time. If in the past, Cải Lương artists had courageously brought Western instruments into the otherwise traditional theater performances, then now, Tuấn Nị faced no hesitation experimenting with his modern take on reinterpreting Cải Lương music.

The artist has unraveled the excerpts from two Cải Lương plays “Hò mái nhì qua Nam ai, Nam bằng”, (‘Mái nhì* River Chanty across Nam Ai, Nam Bằng**), “Chuyến đò vĩ tuyến” (A Ferry Trip Across the Latitude), and remixed them into a minimalistic soundtrack. The listener could both audibly listen to it on the headphone and visually see the identical sound bits taking part in the soundtrack sequentially, the former was off by half a beat comparing to the later, from the sound editing software on the digital screen. The contrast between the improvisational and complex Cải Lương with the plain monotony of minimal music created a frustrating hilarity. Yet this practice could neither be called a work of art nor a complete music piece, since everything was still a in-progress experiment. Yet with an avant-garde approach and his interesting take on the matter, the audience would have their hopes up for a truly “Lương” music that will have been intriguingly “Cải-ed” by Tuấn in the future.

Video installation “Pieces of Dialogue” by Ngô Thu Hương is another interpretation of the iconic chèo character Quan m Thị Kính. The artist has put Quan m Thị Kính out of the original context and featured other found footages from female characters from the Vietnamese cinema scene in the 60-70s. Through such arrangement, she hoped to deliver her personal observations regarding the definitions of/about Vietnamese women through the decades, and at the same time, voiced out a female artist’s opinion on the role and position of women- as opposed to the definitions of women in artworks which were written and executed by men. Setting up a stage with layers of silk screens to project the video does not only generated an interesting visual effect but also emphasized the sense of concurrence of the images of Vietnamese women from the past to the now. The audience might as well see themselves as one of the lives reflected into such concurrences.

Stories series “Between the Currents of Seasons” consists of drawings and watercolor paintings by Ngô Thị Hải Yến. The series, featuring two protagonists Cốm and Nghê – Xù, led the audience to the exciting and poetic escapade through the hidden memories within their cultural consciousness of the land of the tropical monsoon climate.

Three oil paintings by Nguyễn Linh Trang were her endeavors to get herself in touch with the traditional values, towards which previously she has always felt distant through mere folklores and movies.

Dance video by Trần Minh was also his attempt to get to know himself better through his connection with the Tradition of an actor that had learnt the Vietnamese ethnic minority’s style dancing before but was not entirely into it, due to his previous prejudices with the Tradition himself.

Documentary film “Seeing Sound” by Nguyễn Quốc Hoàng Anh recorded the journey following the Vietnamese musician trio: Nguyễn Lê, Ngô Hồng Quang and Trung Bảo, all representatives of the meeting between the East and the West, as well as explorers of the resurrection of traditional culture and contemporary art.

Video installation on three channels by Thịnh Nguyễn sought for the impact of residential relocations on the core traditional values of the human species.

Installation “An Outlook on Diêm Vương” by Lê Thu Minh and Nguyễn Diệp Thùy Anh hopes to place this “outlook” side-by-side with the definitions of Death in order to find the link between the past and tradition with the modern and future.

The practices at Open-Studio: Why Stand have not truly achieved completion, as they were still processing through different stages on their way to the finish line. Yet each practice had showcased unique response from young artists as in shaping the definitions of the Tradition, as well as untangling its values, materials, layers, and to finally infuse those into their own execution of contemporary art. Through such practices, the audience would more or less explore the traditional values that are becoming increasingly distant with the youth in a modernized and globalized society, and reconnect themselves to such values, all while find a future of tradition for themselves.


* Mái nhì: a genre of Huế chanty, alluding to heartfelt trysts and consisting of heart-rending moans. It is sung when the weather is attractively calm.
**Nam Ai, Nam Bằng: Two other genres of Hue chanty. The Nam Bình is characterized by a soft, melodious tone; while the Nam Ai is especially gloomy and more dramatic.


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