Yogjakarta – Indonesia’s art epicentre – as we know, was devastated by an earthquake on 27 May leaving around 200,000 homeless. The city is home to many of Indonesia’s galleries and alternative venues including the formative Cemeti Art House, Kedai Kebun Forum, Benda Art Space, Bentara Budaya, Taman Budaya Jogjakarta and ISI Pasca Sarjana, to name just a few, not to mention the countless artist-collectives and artists working out of Yogja. The art community has been touched deeply by this tragedy.
On a brighter note, contemporary Filipino art seems to be rocking this month with two survey shows in Singapore, and last month’s Filipino presence in Madrid and Barcelona. There seems to be a hot new generation of painters emerging in this regional dialogue, artists such as Kiko Escora, Orlan Ventura, Ronald Ventura, Nona Garcia and Geraldine Javier, who are forcing us to rethink our perceptions of contemporary Filipino art.
Hong Kong seems to be jumping also this month with a swage of cool exhibitions, the opening of a new 7,000 square foot warehouse space, Osage Contemporary Art Space, Christies recent auction of contemporary Southeast Asian art, and Para/Site always challenging our perceptions, this month hosting a Performance Art Project – if you heading to HK there is plenty to see during June.
And Focal Point for June takes a look at the contemporary art scene in Vietnam. I met Huy Nguyen Nhu at the documenta editors forum in Singapore earlier this year – an artist and writer based in HCMC, he gives us an interesting insight into the ‘Viet kieu’ movement and alternative art scene that is emerging in the South. Next month, Australia artist Nerine Martini will report from Hue and Hanoi.
Welcome to the Asian Art Report.
THE ASIAN PICTURE: EXHIBITIONS & EXCHANGES
The Face of Philippine Contemporary Art
Filipino contemporary art is taking over Singapore this month with Taksu’s exhibition Emerging Fires continuing after a successful run in Malaysia (opens 14 June at Taksu Singapore) and Utterly Art pairs up with The Drawing Room, Manila with Relook a group exhibition including works by Ian Quirante, Maya Muñoz, Winner Jumalon and Jayson Oliveria. Showing through until 4 June, Relook redefines our perceptions of Philippine art today. Clearly one needs to take notice of this new generation of painters out of the Philippines – also this month Oliveria has a solo with Finale Gallery (Manila) opening, Maya Munoz’s May solo show with Hiraya was a knock it with her huge fluid figures, and Geraldine Javier has a solo with Malaysia’s Valentine Willie Fine Art opening 14 June.
Curated by Qinyi Lim and Victoria Lu, Fiction@Love examines the influence of contemporary popular culture such as anime, comics, graphic communications, and manga in art – crossing mediums from paintings, murals, sculptures, videos and interactive installations. How are emotions expressed in the zones of real and virtual, and what are the repercussions of our exposure to an internet aesthetic? Featuring 51 works from Singapore, Malaysia, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Denmark and America it is showing at SAM until 9 July. www.singart.com.
To celebrate the opening of the new Bangkok University Art Gallery, this exhibition looks at that melting pot of Bangkok’s young art scene – works by Arin Rungjang, Kata Sangkhae, Kornkrit Jianpinidnan and Pratchaya Phinthong, responding to the new gallery environment. Curated by Ark Fongsmut, Melting Place will continue until 10 June.
Super cool hits for the month
Wang Wan-Chun’s super cool solo exhibition at Chi Wen Gallery (formally known as Taipei MoMA) is a must if you are in Taiwan this month. Showing until 24 June visit www.chiwengallery.com and if you are in Bangkok the cool pick for the month is Flesh a new series of paintings and video works by Thaweesak Srithongdee. Exploring a mixture of symbols by showing them on the human body, questioning styles and cultural mores and futuristic human beings, these works are blatant, cool and confronting. At Thavibu Gallery until 11 June, visit www.thavibu.com.
New space for Hong Kong
The Osage Contemporary Art Space opens on 9 June. It is Hong Kong’s newest and largest commercial contemporary art space – a 7,000 square foot warehouse located in an industrial building at Kwun Tong, Kowloon. It gives Hong Kong a much-needed venue committed to the development of experimental and contemporary art practice. Its inaugural exhibition, Shen Shaomin’s Scary Monsters, is a combination of photographs and sculptures, where he uses the bones of vermin and ordinary farmed animals to create fictitious beings, made ‘believable’ through our global world of cloning, biotechnology etc… Shen migrated to Australia in 1990 but returned to Beijing in 2002. Shen has been selected for this year’s Liverpool Biennale. Showing until 3 August – visit www.osagegallery.com.
Hong Kong Performance Art Project
June Art Action – In Memory of June Fourth was a Performance Art Project between Arahmaiani (Indonesia), Boris Nieslony (Germany) and Shuyang (China) at Para/Sit Art Space Hong Kong on 3 June. It was followed by a 6-hour durational performance at the Causeway Bay Pedestrian Area (MRT Exit D) by the three plus local artists. This ‘mini festival’ also included a workshop by Arahmaiani and seminar by Shuyang on The ‘market factor’ in Contemporary Chinese Art at Para/Site. Shu Yang coordinated the 798 Biennale in 2005. For more visit www.para-site.org.hk.
Other Hong Kong Hits
Check out Danny Lee’s reductive sculptures with their encroaching meniscus of liquid stainless steel in Urban karma: sculpture of Danny Lee, 21 June to 8 July at Grotto Fine Art; or head to Plum Blossom Gallery for Tran Tyrong Vu’s exhibition We don’t know how water is blue? from 1 – 16 June; and at 1a Space at Cattle Depot Artist Village, aWay is a group exhibition of 14 artists all born in the 70s, grew up in an age of information technology and economic stability, and tend to focus on fragmented sensations and memories in their work. Curated by Jeff Chinfung Leung, “aWay” is showing 9 – 29 June – visit www.oneaspace.org.hk.
Twigg & Fairweather at the Vargas Museum
Tony Twigg has spent the past six weeks at the Vargas Museum (University of the Philippines), as a Research Fellow investigating the connection between Ian Fairweather and the establishment of a ‘modern art movement’ in the Philippines during the 1930s, when Fairweather spent a crucial early period there. This exhibition of 15 scrolls presented as didactics, alongside ephemera and Filipino paintings of the 1930s, will plot a connection and historic framework to this phenomenal and sophisticated period in Manila – Manila as Fairweather would have experienced it. People As Landscape: Fairweather in the Philippines will be on show at the Vargas Museum 27 June through 13 August. Additionally, Twigg’s fifth solo exhibition with Galleria Duemila Perforations has been extended until 28 July. This cohesive body of work was made during Twigg’s recent 12-month stay in Malaysia and flattens his 3-dimensional constructions onto canvas. For more visit www.galleriaduemila.com.
The Philippines is hot – and not just on the barometer!
West and Finale galleries have a hot line up for June, Karen Ocampo Flores showing until 13 June, followed by Gus Albor who will show across the two adjacent galleries 15 – 27 June, then a young painter to keep an eye on, Jayson Oliveria from 29 June to 18 July. But perhaps one of the ‘hottest’ shows this month is Orlan Ventura at The Art Centre in Megamall. Showing until 7 June his exhibition Flat Reality has that slick surfaces of Murakami yet the twist of Filipino humour and contemporary resonance typical of his generation. They are technically adroit and killer paintings!
And from the same generation, Maya Munoz’s show at Hiraya Gallery I managed to catch in its last days, loose figurative works that have a maturity and confidence that shift our perceptions of Filipino art. And Ronald Ventura who mounted an exhibition Cross Encounters at Ateneo Art Gallery 25 May through 21 July in response to his residency in Sydney during November. And at the Ayala Museum Space, New York based Filipina Emily Sycip Cheng drew the A-crowd with her connections. Her paintings warranted the attention, translucent fields that allow schematic lotus designs and Chinese ceramics fragments and symbols to levitate locked within a frame of formal proportions. Showing until 8 June, Cheng’s exhibition was organised by Galleria Duemila.
And to celebrate its first anniversary, Manila’s Ar.I.A.s (Artists-run Independent Art space) invited 15 artists to do portraits of Emmanuel ‘Eric’ Torres – poet, art critic, professor and mentor who has contributed significantly to the development of modern art in the Philippines. Check out this interesting new art space at www.arias.atspace.com.
And hot awards…
On 3 June Ben Cabera will be conferred National Artist for Painting at Malacanang Palace. Ben had a sell-out exhibition with STPI earlier this year and has a place on the Asian Auction circuit. We will get to see Ben’s work in the Main Gallery at the CCP opening 13 July – what a bit of serendipitous programming! And speaking of awards and the CCP, Sid Hildawa Director of the Visual Arts Unit is in the United States on a 3-month ACC Fellowship to investigate contemporary art spaces in light of the future development of the CCP. Seven finalists have been selected under The CCP District Design Excellence Competition – their architectural models are on display – a proposed redevelopment of the CCP complex and surrounding lands – land that was in dispute for 35 years (thanks Imelda!). And Duddley Diaz has just been awarded the ‘Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan’ from the City of Manila for his contribution towards Philippino sculpture.
Today we are addicted to lifestyle – and this addiction is creating a pressure to move towards homogenized realities. Migration Addicts deals with questions of temporal and spatial strategies resultant of this situation. Guest curator Biljana Ciric, from the Shanghai Doulun Museum of Modern Art, invited seven artists to Singapore for eight days to respond to the site – Susanne Winterling (Germany), Naho Kawabe (Japan), Ang Soo Koo and Zulki He Mahmood (Singapore), Jin Shan, Huang Kui and Jiang Chongwu (China). Showing at Sculpture Square from 9 June to 16 July, visit www.sculpturesq.com.sg for more. (Project supported by ddM Warehouse and Art China magazine.)
Spin me a tune
Baby Love, (first exhibited at Palais de Tokyo, Paris last December), is the second work in a triology – the first Baby Play was exhibited in Tokyo, 2001. Shu Lea Cheang invites viewers to upload love songs through the internet and USB interface at the site which are encoded as a M.E. (memory and emotion) database. Her ‘sci-fi cloned babies’ then mix and play these in the exhibition space, connecting audience and babies in the ever-spinning cups of Shu Lea Cheang’s playground. A technically sophisticated work, it’s at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art until 18 June – visit www.tmoa.gov.tw.
Indonesian art rocks…
Yogjakarta’s devastating earthquake of 27 May has left about 200,000 homeless including many artists in this cultural hub of Indonesia. A collective of artists, cultural activists, academics and gallerists have formed YUK! – Yogyakarta Untuk Keberagaman to help manage relief. Steered by artists Arie Dyanto and Nadiah Bamadhaj email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how you can help.
This month in Malaysia Valentine Willie Fine Arts is showing Filipino painter Geraldine Javier opening 14 June – another Young Contemporary from their well know series. Visit www.artsasia.com.my. Galerie Seni Maya turns two this month, and will celebrate with a miniature exhibition. Come Closer includes over 200 2D and 3D works by 70 artists from Malaysia and Indonesia. From 6 – 25 June, visit www.mayagallery.com.my. And Nur Hanim Mohamed Khairuddin, editor of SentAP magazine and curator for the Perak Arts Centre, has been included in Nafas exhibition and on-line project curated by Gerhard Haupt & Pat Binder – a very cool project including nine artists representing Contemporary Art from the Islamic World – click here for more.
Displacement Project: Bandung – Singapore 2006
The Displacement Project challenges spatial and structural concerns in architecture, cityscapes and urbanization, by ‘dislocating’ exhibitions from Bandung to Singapore. This ‘translocation’ relates strongly to the idea of duality of the two cities, their differences and similitude. Several venues are involved and a swage of artists – the Bandung leg occurred in May, followed by Singapore in June. Check out www.displacementproject.blogspot.com for more details on this cool project.
Claudia Conduto’s Chairs
Belgian artist Claudia Conduot is the resident artist at Singapore’s Plastique Kinetic Worms from 9 May through 24 June. She is interested in the relationship between vision and function, the presence of the ‘found objects’ and use of light. Her project for PKW, Roow challenges our perceptions of space by deconstructing the gallery environment with a suspended chair installation. For more visit www.pkworms.org.sg.
Chinese Triology: The Chen Family
Chen Yu’s (b. 1963) characteristic style of linear rows of duplicated human heads has received much acclaim on the contemporary art circuit. Yu Chen’s (b. 1969) celebrated Red Babies, with their ironic Chairman Mao likenesses, communicate the spirit of Post-modernism in China. As a female artist dealing with social issues that are culturally and politically charged, Yu Chen’s brash palette depicts a raw emotional quality and has made an impact. The youngest sibling, Chen Li’s (b. 1975) however, has his debut with this exhibition. His work is more aloof using metaphor to confront the world around him, seamlessly blending Buddhist and Christian symbology. Another Chen success! Showing at Main Gallery, Central, Hong Kong from 8 June through 5 July – visit www.schoeni.com.hk.
China’s Su Xinping’s exhibition of lithographs, etchings and woodcuts, Three Elements is currently on show at Singapore Tyler Print Institute until 10 June. Also exhibited are the traditional lithograph stones used to create these phenomenal works. The exhibition will be followed by Singaporean, Lim Tze Peng from 17 June through 8 July. Meanwhile Juen is a big month for STPI residencies with Korean artist, Chun Kwang-Young working towards his September exhibition, followed by Wong Hoy Cheong (Malaysia) and Michael Lin (Taiwan) in residence. For more visit www.stpi.com.sg.
Utilizing the traditional medium of Vietnamese lacquer, Le Thua Tien’s exhibition Reflection is a series of metaphorical ‘mirrors’ created through the multi-layered lacquer process. At first glance they appear as abstract, minimal works – the lacquer palette is not as varied as oil paint and these works are chromatically reduced to blacks, whites and earth tones. The paintings have a physical depth – submerged found material and the veiling of text – which gives them both a dimensionality and a balance between spontaneous mark making and intensely worked, carefully considered surfaces. They almost have the feeling of erosion – an ethereal weathered of time and memory that is fragile yet resilient, random yet ponderous. Tien’s work refers to both local and global fitting easily within a contemporary context. Showing at Art Vietnam Gallery in Hanoi until 9 June. Visit www.artvietnamgallery.com.
How to Travel with a Watermelon
Curated by Vitamin Creative Space, this solo exhibition by Duan Jianyu surveys the period from 1999 to 2006. Her paintings summon our feelings about a contemporary Chinese reality – How to Travel with a Watermelon is showing until 31 July. Vitamin Creative Space is first alternative art space in Pearl River Delta, Guangzhou – visit www.vitamincreativespace.com. And at Red Gate’s Dongbianmen Watchtower, Chongwen Dirstrict in Beijing, Han Qing presents the solo exhibition At Night until 18 June – For more visit www.redgategallery.com. And in Thailand, six Chengdu-based artists – He DuoLing, Zhou ChunYa, Zhao NengZhi, Guo Jin, Guo Wei and Yang Mian – explore contemporary concepts of physicality and the familiar through drawing in the exhibition The Naked Truth, showing at Tang Gallery, Bangkok, 7 June – 1 July – visit www.tanggallery.com.
ASIAN ARTISTS ABROAD
Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India
Contemporary India presents an exceptionally diverse range of contexts, environments and art. Edge of Desire offers a selection that encompass a variety of visual cultures, traversing the conventional divides of urban, fine art and craft, high culture and popular culture. The conflicts of religious fundamentalism and globalization since the early 1990s have engendered unprecedented change in Indian visual culture. Diversity and dissent have found themselves pitted against orthodoxy, conformity and homogenisation. These changes are reflected in the political, social and environmental concerns of artists whose works range from ‘high tech’ site specific installations to handcrafted ‘folk’ practices. Popular visual culture also plays a major role in contemporary experience in India, and the inclusion of images from auto-rickshaw paintings, Bollywood films and MTV India in this exhibition recasts the traditional distinctions between high and low. Edge of Desire presents the work of 34 artists and is a joint initiative of The Asia Society, New York and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth. Showing at the Berkeley Art Museum, California from 13 June through 17 September. (Listing courtesy of Asian Art Archive World Calendar.)
House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective
Chinese born, Paris based Huang Yong Ping challenges the east west divide. Featuring more than 40 works spanning 1985 to the present and concluding with Bat Project IV, a full size re-creation of a section of the U.S. surveillance plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet in 2001. The artist states the project was conceived as, ‘an immersive sculptural environment that is a hybrid of diorama, excavation, menagerie and exploratorium’. Showing at Massachusetts MoCA, this major exhibition opened in March and will continue until 19 February 2007. Visit www.massmoca.org.
Last Judgement in Cyberspace
Miao Xiaochun’s recent work has turned to 3D techniques to develop his own interpretative rendition of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement using digital technology to make the painting transparent then presenting virtual perspectives. Miao Xioachun creates a computer-made sculpture of his own body, replacing Michelangel’s entire constellation of figures with his ‘doubles’ in virtual space. This exhibition of large-format prints, along with a video, mix, dissolve and reformulate all possible perspectives – The Last Judgement like we have never viewed! Showing with Alexander Ochs Galleries Berlin & Beijing until 17 June – visit www.alexanderochs-galleries.de.
Katsutoshi Yuasa makes large, highly-detailed woodcuts based on photographs which he then changes to monochromes before cutting – the technique spanning traditional Japanese woodcut techniques and contemporary digital manipulation. At the Corn Exchange Gallery in Edinburgh until 22 June – visit www.cornexchangegallery.com.
Asian Video Art Abroad
Artechmedia 2006 is a program of video art screenings and a forum on contemporary Asian video art, at Casa Asia Barcelona from 26 – 30 June. For more visit www.casaasia.es. Barcelona was also host to LOOP: The Video Art Fair ’06 and OFF-LOOP for two weeks in May, claimed to be the most important international event of video art. In New York, Fast Futures: Asian Video Art presents new work by three artists – Bea Camacho, Kiraki Sawa and Koko Tanaka – at the Japan Society, NYC until 18 June. Visit www.japansociety.org. And in London, Yang Fudong presents No Snow on the Broken Bridge an expose of a generation being in their late 20s early 30s who have only known the recent and rapid modernisation of China. From 6-9 June at Parasol Unit, visit www.parasol-unit.org.
Action Painting Street Battle
Held as part of Asian Contemporary Art Week hosted by the Asia Society in NYC, action painter Ryoga Katsuma will take on the great ‘Boxing Painter’ Ushio Shinohara on Jay Street in TriBeCa. Mr Shinohara was a core member of Neo Dada, one of the most radical avant-garde collectives in postwar Japan, and first performed Boxing Painting in 1959. William Klein photographed/documented these events. To coincide with the performance, an exhibition of recent works by both artists with show at Ethan Cohen Fine Arts until 24 June, along with a selection of Tokyo-based photographer Minoru Hirata work documenting Shinohara’s early performances. Ethan Cohen Fine Arts launches the Art Archaeology Project a long-term archival project which aims to preserve ephemeral art works documented by photography and to foster the understanding of Japanese avant-garde performances since the 1960s. For more visit www.ecfa.com.
BAROMETER: BIENNALES, FAIRS & AWARDS
Sculpture Month for Vietnam
From 3-11 June, the imperial coastal city of Hue will be hosting an Arts Festival, which was launched with the Fouth International Sculpture Symposium last month. Australian artists, Nerine Martini and Claire Martin participated. Also during June, there is a ‘Sculpture happening’ in Hanoi titled Flight, it is a collaboration between Dao Anh Khanh, Bradford Edwards and Nguyen Mann Hung. If you are in Singapore on 24 June be sure to hit the ‘Singapore Biennale Club Night’ – the machine is starting to build the hype. For more visit www.singaporebiennale.com.
On 28 May Christies held their auction of ‘Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art’ in Hong Kong. For auction results visit www.christies.com. Ravenel Auction House in Taipei will hold it’s Spring auction, The 20th and 21st Century Chinese Art on 4 June, following the success of its last sale which achieved approximately US$5.7 million. And on 20 June, London will host the 2006 Bonhams Auction of Contemporary Asian Art. For more visit www.bonhams.com.
Jakarta Biennale 2006
Curiously, the Jakarta Arts Council is collaborating with Museum Seni Rupa & Keramik (the National Gallery), Cemara 6 Gallery and Lontar Gallery to present the Jakarta Biennale 2006 during June. Didn’t Jakarta’s CP Biennale just announce it would be discontinued? (Curator Jim Supangkat in Art Asia Pacific, Spring 2006). Is this just a case of give it a different name, get the government to endorse it and bob’s your uncle… Jakarta can still have a ‘biennale’? Split across the three venues: Filippo Sciascia, Nadiah Bamadhaj and Peter Dittmar at Lontar Gallery; Ann Wizer, Midori Hirota, Sook Hee Lee-Niinioja, and Peter Dittmar at Cemara 6 Galerie; and at the National Gallery Ranger Mills and Juliana Yasin with Mathangi Raghavan, Karen Ang, Hermawan Tanzil, Noor Effendy Ibrahim, Jeremy Buanghoe Hiah, Kai Hoi Lit Lam, Lee Wen, Lina Adam and p-10 – the biennale’s theme is Beyond: The Limits and Its Challenges. Maybe the title is a curious pun on the post-CP Biennale state? For more visit www.biennalejakarta.com.
Sovereign Asian Art Prize
The 2006 Asian Art Prize awarded by the Sovereign Art Foundation – a hefty sum of US$25,000 will be awarded this month. The 30 short-listed works will be exhibited at Lan Crawford’s store in IFC mall, Hong Kong until 10 June. For more visit www.sovereignartfoundation.com.
NEWS: MUSEUMS & MOVEMENT
Conservation in the Tropics
The University of Santo Tomas (Manila) through its Centre for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the Tropics hosted Collections Asia or ‘Collasia 2010’, a three-week course in May on Conservation of SE Asian Collections in Storage. 21 delegates attended from Italy, The Netherlands, Indonesia, Thailand, Chile, Malaysia, India, Philippines and Vinod Daniel, Head of Collections at AusHeritage, representing Australia. Collasia 2010 is a seven-year program of ICCROM and SPAFA to improve museum practice in Southeast Asian countries – sadly many of which did not attend – Brunei, Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam. The Vargas Museum and UST have collaborated on profession development in this area for some time, and have worked in partnership with the University of Melbourne and past Asialink resident Nicole Tse, who continues her connection with the Philippines.
Positions in HK
The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation is looking for a Programme Manager and Programme Officer – a private philanthropic organization with a mission to promote the arts, benefiting people of Chinese origin. Based in Hong Kong, if you are fluent in Chinese this is one of those great positions but be quick as applications close 15 June – for more information email Mr. Po at email@example.com or visit their website.
Plans are underway for the Changi International Airport Terminal 3 and Sculpture Square (Singapore) is the official managing agent for presenting works for its Art Programme. With submissions closing the end of May, we are all eager to see what will eventuate.
HCMC contemporary art scene/new elements
Presented by Huy Nguyen Nhu
For about the last ten years, as the consequences of globalisation and communication technology, together with an unprecedented development of a tourism industry that have been accompanied by a ‘cultural open-door policy’ by the Vietnamese Government, on the surface, the Vietnamese visual arts scene appears to have had many crucial changes, one of which is the change in art practice itself.
Compared with the preceding decade where official elements in practicing art meant having the same visual, geographical, historical, and educational past, nowadays, especially in HCMC, there are many kinds of visual artists practicing who have re-interpreted these parameters.
Those artists are often ‘Viet kieu’ – artists who, after long-term living, studying and working abroad, are now coming back to their fatherland to live and work. There are also western artists who have chosen to stay in Vietnam to live and work. The participation of these ‘new kinds of artists’ (more or less they are not sharing the same past with local artists) in the present scene is gradually building a new shape and maybe a new future for a very local art environment.
Considering the first generation of foreign artists in Vietnam, we must mention Veronica Radulovic, a German artist, and Natalia Kraevskaia, a Russian art practioner and owner of Salon Natasha, the first gallery in Hanoi (1990) managed in the direction of an alternative space. In the 1990s, Veronica played a theoretical role (she was associated teacher at Hanoi Fine Art University) and Natalia played a practical role (Salon Natasha organizing many exhibitions and workshops with an ‘underground manner’).
Both have significantly contributed to shaping a new image for Hanoi’s contemporary art scene, introducing several names such as: Truong Tan, Nguyen Minh Thanh, Nguyen Quang Huy, Dinh Thi Tham Poong, Nguyen Van Cuong. Most of these artists either have been Veronica’s students or had important first shows at Salon Natasha.
However, this first generation of foreigners contributed to the local art scene indirectly, despite their significance. It was the practice of the second-generation foreign artists, mainly in HCMC, and with a more relaxed social-political environment, that allowed a more flexible and interactive practice with the local community. For example, the formation and activities of the French group ‘wonderfuldistrict’ in 2003, who had the idea of forming a group to practice art in the Vietnamese context.
After doing some serious research in Hanoi, Saigon and Hoi An, its five members (Betrand Peret, Sandrin Liouquet, Gislain Merat, Karen Maldonado, and Jerome Brege) decided finally to chose HCMC to set up their art space. Since the end of 2005, wonderfuldistrict has vigorously maintained activities in HCMC through exhibitions, meetings and talks with local artists to encourage exchange of ideas and the appreciation of contemporary art.
Their artspace ‘atelier wonderful district’ (80 Nguyen Trai St., District 1, HCMC), is a flexible room which has hosted several interesting alternative shows. A good example is a recent show, Immense with an animal skin by Delphine Trouche, a French artist and ‘rendezvous’, organised in collaboration with blue space gallery and some Vietnamese artists in November 2005. It could be considered a significant endeavour breaking the form of an art show in order to reach the level of a multimedia visual arts festival.
A second dynamic foreign artists group operating in HCMC is ‘a little blah blah’ (a.l.b.b.), an artist initiative founded end of 2004. a.l.b.b. is managed by Sue Hajdu, an Australian artist, and Motoko Uda, a Japanese artist. Both have been living and working long-term in Vietnam (Hajdu 12 years and Uda 6 years). [The implicit message presented through its name ‘a little blah blah’, the group aims to not use rhetoric or be ‘westernly’ boastful in a local context. On the contrary, their emersion and thorough survey of a local reality, allows their activities to have an effect upon that reality.] Since the end of 2004, a.l.b.b. has been organizing meetings and talks for visiting international artists and curators including well-known names such as Olu Oguibe (Nigerian-American), Tran Trong Vu (French-Vietnamese), and Glen Clark (Australian).
In addition to organizing trans-contextual talks and meetings, a.l.b.b. also created a residency program for abroad artist to stay and work in Vietnam. A good example was the four-month residency of Japanese butoh dance performance artist Ryuzo Fukuhara in mid 2004. Most recently, January 2006, a.l.b.b. co-curated with Roland Smith and Alain Melbourne in an art project presenting the best video artworks collection from the annual experimental video festival kiss my… after effect, KMAE (Frind Melburg 2004-2005).
Another address should be considered here – Galerie Quynh (23 Ly Tu Trong, Dist. 1, HCMC). In a couple of years, regardless of its form as a pretty successful commercial ‘white box’, it has initiated a series of experimental orientated shows. HCMC’s art audience has easily seen some gallery’s move from a pure commercial state to a more flexible and contemporary form. The noticeable point here is in organising those show, Galerie Quynh has been ready to change its own architectural structure (temporarily) to satisfy artist’s technical demands.
A recent example is the show troi oi (my God), a video piece by French artist Sandrine Llouquet at the end of 2005. In that show a new wall was built inside the gallery and two of the gallery’s windows also were painted black. That a gallery as Galerie Quynh is negotiating simultaneously two different kinds of art practice clearly reveals the characteristic of a new artistic, social and political environment that is gradually appearing on Vietnam’s surface – one of hybridity, fluidity and flexibility replacing the old environment. Galerie Quynh’s Managing Director Quynh Pham is a ‘Viet kieu’ from America who has been living long-term in Vietnam.
Another kind of activity deployed in HCMC is independent activities of several ‘Viet kieu’ artists. Jun Nguyen Hatsushiba is one of them – an artist with three national identities (Vietnam, Japan and America) – and a regular on the global contemporary art scene. His works, often considered representative of Vietnamese contemporary art, has been presented at exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale, Sao Paulo Biennale, Moscow Biennale. Recently, his name was recorded in newest edition of ART NOW (Volume 2, 2005), an important publication with the purpose to record biennially the names of the most important contemporary artists globally.
Another ‘Viet kieu’ artist living and working in HCMC is Dinh Q. Le. Dinh is a well-known artist in America, exhibiting extensively in galleries and museum in New York and Los Angeles. Two of his recent important shows are From Vietnam to Hollywood at P.P.O.W. (2004) and Vietnam, Destination for the New Millennium (late 2004) at The Asia Society New York. He was also invited to present artwork at the 2003 Venice Biennale. Returning to Vietnam in 1994, Dinh Q. Le now participates dynamically to a local contemporary art scene. Through his relationships, several curators and art directors from important museums in New York, Sydney and Thailand have dropped by Vietnam to meet local artists.
The last ‘Viet kieu’ artist I mention here is Rich Streitmatter Tran who also comes back to Vietnam from America. Rich’s first ‘touch’ with Vietnam was his three-month teaching position at HCMC Fine Art University where he was invited to be a guest teacher on multimedia art. After finishing his course, Rich decided to stay in HCMC. Although staying and working in HCMC not so long, Rich has operated his art practices vigorously.
Founder of ‘project one’ an artist and designer group based in HCMC, Rich also received a scholarship granted by the Asian Art Archive for researching the condition of contemporary art alongside the Mekong River. Rich’s artworks have been presented broadly in Hanoi, HCMC, Cambodia, EU, and the 2004 Gwangju Biennale. Rich is an artist who is trying actively to share [knowledge], through his art. For example his recent work loudest sound first exhibited at Huge Lane Gallery, Dublin (2005) is an installation with photographs of Vietnamese organ victims.
For young artists practicing contemporary art in HCMC there isn’t any help from cultural organizations – non-governmental or government organizations such as Goethe Institute, British Council, Le Space – as their colleagues in Hanoi enjoy. The attendance and practices of individual or groups of foreign artists (the ‘Viet kieu’) in HCMC, [therefore fills this place and] creates a positive and dynamic effect on HCMC’s contemporary environment. Through varied art practices, exhibitions, talks and workshops to introduce local artists with abroad art organizations, HCMC’s contemporary art environment has made positive changes, which hopefully is the premise for a stronger and deeply shifting art scene of the near future.
Huy Nguyen Nhu is an artist and writer based in HCMC.