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Nghệ thuậtBàn tròn "Mĩ thuật đương đại Việt Nam đang ở đâu"
31.10.2002
Nguyễn Như Huy
Talawas round table "Contemporary Vietnamese art in the international context"
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About the problem of "doing artistic work using artistic language", I have a few thoughts I would like to share:

I think one of the shortcomings of contemporary Vietnamese artists is that they are doing artistic work without understanding the artistic language or paying attention to its development. In other words, they lack a serious awareness about the important role the artistic language, i.e. the sum relation of everything used in artistic creation, plays in art.

At the present time, some Vietnamese artists tend no longer to consider oil the supreme material in painting. However the question remains whether their works can be taken as clear signs of so-called development in Vietnamese artistic language.

This question has to be looked at more closely.

In my opinion, whoever makes use of a novel artistic material or form - it should be noted that in a way, new artistic forms are born of new understanding of the material - must be aware of the new material's expressive potential as well as its limits so as not to use it extravagantly or erroneously.

I will give an example of correct usage of artistic language, i.e. in the right place at the right time to the right purpose, in film. In "Kasemusa", directed by Japanese director Kurosawa, there is the scene where an impersonator of a dead prince walks against the light. His shadow grows bigger behind him until it becomes - in the language of film - the shadow of the dead prince weighting down on his shoulders.

We can imagine how this idea would lose much force and beauty if expressed in another medium, e.g. with words.

I feel that most contemporary Vietnamese artists who are currently working with new forms of expression do not understand the things they are using in their creation and thus have never been up to the material, let alone use it to create new forms of expression. In other words, they have never mastered their instruments.

I think most of the work in installation, performance or video art of Vietnamese artists - whatever the subject might be, nationality or modernity - is just symptom of naive wonderment at the new artistic language. In other words, what they want to express with the new language they can just as good, or even better, express with the old one, not to speak of those that use new forms just for the sake of using new forms, having really nothing to say. (See Nguyên Hưng, "Đôi điều về nghệ thuật sắp đặt", in Hoạ sỹ, kẻ sáng tạo nên mình)

Because of the lack in understanding of new forms of expression, there exists now a condition of absolute unprofessionality. That is, Vietnamese art exhibits almost all forms of expression there are in the world, old and new, but this I think is a kind of pseudo-modernism. Put differently, the so-called innovations of contemporary Vietnamese art are only hasty solutions - with which Vietnamese artists only prove their marginal position in the world - to problems posed by the current reality of Vietnamese art, a reality to change which much more has to be done than just applying red paint to cows or buffalos or dancing frantically on river dams or playing meaningless cords on the piano and declaring it to be atonality.

Reading what you wrote, Natasha and Veronica, I understand that you are making great cultural efforts to change the face of Vietnamese art. I know you are very unhappy with the situation of real souvenir art in Vietnam, and as an artist, I share with you these feelings.

It is also as an artist that I think there is now an even greater danger for Vietnamese art which you, possibly because of your position, do not pay attention to. It is the so-called fake new art. This, I think, is the biggest danger.

I will take this opportunity to tell you a story from an ancient Chinese book.

Thuc, Hot and Hon Don were friends. Hon Don, unlike the others, had neither eyes, nor ears, nor nose, nor mouth. One day, Thuc and Hot came to the idea that Hon Don would not be able to live like they if he did not have eyes and ears and nose and mouth, and so they decided to give him those things. Each day they made a hole on his body, and on the seventh day Hon Don died.

You see, from the time of Tiang Hsu it has been the case that when you do something, even with a very good purpose, without understanding what you are doing, it could turn out deadly.

(31.10.2002)

© Talawas 2002