Written with photos by Hà Bi for Hanoi Grapevine
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Those who were born in Saigon, or have been raised here, must have spent their time wandering the alleys, stopping by a street food stall to understand this city. No matter how many years you spend doing so, I am sure you would still be amazed coming “Reinvent Saigon” as part of Art of Reinvention by Toong in collaboration with CapitaLand Vietnam and VECS took place in last July. As it turned out, Saigon still has so much more to be discovered…
Lasted one week (from 22 to 28 Jul 2019) at 5 locations: Toong Minh Khai in District 1 and District 3, Toong Ham Nghi, Toong & The Oxygen Mall, Vista An Phu, Toong & Faifo Lane Mall, Vista Verde in District 2, “Reinvent Saigon” could be compared to Doraemon’s time machine, taking us to the past and the future. This experimental week let the audience discover Saigon through 5 aspects, which are the 5 main themes. You would be enjoying the trademarks of the city in the past and at present through Words and Design, Cuisine, Architecture and the City, Fashion and Lifestyle, which envision Saigon in the future.
This is it, the collection The Youth of Words with newspaper pages from the Tuoi Tre Cuoi Tuan (Tuoi Tre News Weekend Magazine) compiled by journalist Nguyen Trong Chuc, former Editorial secretary of Tuoi Tre News Weekend Magazine and Ho Chi Minh City Art Magazine, through the years. Reading the short stories and the poems on the time-worn pages, we could immediately see the similarities and differences in storytelling techniques and devices, choice of words, even layouts… of the paper then and now.
Exhibition Chat Viet (Essence of Vietnam) with 25 works from 25 young artists selected and introduced Explorians Chat Viêet. Scan the QR codes to learn more about Ve ve hat Boi, Ve Bac Lieu nghe cau vong co, Bai choi Hoi An… Exactly like the name, these projects tell the stories of a special cultural characteristics of Vietnamese people in all parts of the country.
You would also once again meet Uu Dam Tran Nguyen with “Rong ran len” (Tho) – an article on this exhibition already published on Hanoigrapevine – this time showcased in a more spectacular manner.
You could also take part in completing the installation artwork “Refill” by Nguyen Da Quyen, co-founder of Lai Day Refill Station – a recycled product made from bubble wraps; see the exhibition Saigon Bit Food – recreating the street shops and vendors in the 8-bit graphic designs of 8-bit Saigon; or look at Saigon in map in the exhibition Saigon Map: From a Bagua city to today, collected and introduced by cultural researcher Phan Khac Huy and Thu Quan Coi Viet (Coi Viet Public Library). Reinvent Saigon also offered interactive booths, movie screenings and culinary experiences. It seems that no matter how, the audience could touch Saigon in the most realistic way.
On 27 and 28 July – the two last and most exciting days of the event – it was even more incredible strolling around The Oxygen and Faifo Lane in District 2 with an abundance of activities for both adults and children. Visit the Scent Workshop: Craft your Saigon, created and operated by The Scent Studio and Le Mai, to hear the stories of how scents impact our life. See how clothes become sophisticated and fashionable in the exhibition series Nha may thanh lich (Elegant tailor shop). Or spend the day wandering Creative Alley: Crafty Saigon, together with artisans making unique silver or wooden items, soaps, art papers, craft printmaking, pottery, books, leather goods, costume… There are dozens of items from simple to sophisticated that could fascinate you.
Not only exhibitions or experiences, Reinvent Saigon also hosted many quality discussions and seminars. Come to the talk Viet Su Kieu Hung (Vietnamese Epic History) to know what young people have created with Vietnamese history, enjoy their refreshing and fascinating storytelling; listen to Nguyen Huu Hon – the founder Style Republik & F.A.C.E Fashion Workshop, designer Li Lam, Phan Anh – Creative director of Sir Tailor talk about fashion and integration Fashion In Life – Fashion In Style; join the discussion on Architecture of Saigon: A Slice of Culture – to analyze intriguing things about Saigon then and now…
Experimental Week: Reinvent Saigon opened up diverse perspectives on Saigon through art exhibitions, workshops on arts, crafts and creativity, discussions on lifestyle, design, technology, business, performance, under the guidance of excellent artists and experts, such as artist Uu Dam Tran Nguyen, journalist Nguyen Trong Chuc, designer Sy Hoang, architects Hoanh Tran and Archie Pizzini, artist Richie Fawcette… If you have been familiar with Saigon for many years, you could still be amazed by the diversity of Saigon. Or if you have just chosen this city to settle down, you could immediately found these pieces of Saigon endearing.
As bartist Richie Fawcett of The Studio Saigon said of Saigon: “In my eyes, Saigon never stops moving nor reinventing. A vivacious, vibrant city, yet still contains traces of the ancient town in its architecture. 8 years of living and working in Saigon also let me witness many changes. I want to convey the rich cultural and urban spirit of Saigon in my hand-painted paintings, as well as create conceptual drinks reminding us of the endearing street corners.”
Reinventing Saigon is a diverse series of activities prepared in a record short time: 2 months, bringing together more than 20 creative organizations and rising businesses all with a love for the city, organizing dozens of activities in 5 locations. The event organizers did a great job bringing the audience on a journey to learn about Saigon from the cuisine, the streets, the architecture to the fashion… These are all the essentials of the daily life, creating a familiar feel to the audience. The exhibitions also pointed out the differences between the old and the new, or unleashed creativity and imagination about the future.
One thing that the event did very well is that it brought researches to the public through direct conversations with the experts. Saigon is a dynamic city with many immigrants. Just on the topic of What to eat in Saigon, there are different needs between Northern-born people and the Southern locals, the expats and the tourists… Therefore the discussions on cuisine, discussions and Q&A were very engaging. That was the aim of the organizers behind Reinvent Saigon: open up a new perspective on Saigon and thus encouraging its citizen to contribute and reinforce the city’s unique identity.
The downside of Reinvent Saigon was perhaps… it was too short. The duration for the entire exhibition and other activities was only one week, with 5 exhibition areas in 5 different locations in the city, and many workshops, open discussions taking place after hours… This might have resulted in many people though would have loved to, could not join the event fully. Perhaps in the future, there will be many more Reinvent Saigon. Because as Hong Nguyen, founder of VECS Experience Planner – one of the first partners working closely with Toong in organizing this experimental week, commented: “Reinventing is a model, an action, and in the future – a way of life. It’s DNA for business, for art, and all of the relating activities.”
To create a DNA for a city, a nation, of course, requires “cellular-level” understanding of the people living there. Continuously rediscovering ourselves and the world around us is the way to fine-tune our DNA – in other words, to evolve to perfection.
Art of Reinvention – A cultural platform for urban intellectuals – was born with the aim of bringing opportunities to urban intellectuals in Indochina and beyond Southeast Asia so that every day, every person can constantly overcome prejudices about the world around them, erase the unreal boundary between the “I” and the “we”, wisely acknowledge and remain with true values, become strong in awareness and never cease to expand their knowledge to create not only materials, but also values.
Photos: From 1 – 25 provided by the organizers of Reinvent Saigon; from 26 – 30 taken by Hà Bi
Translated by Hanoi Grapevine